Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Sublime Aesthetics of the Endless Pounding

 A Response to Ben Laurence

We'll get to this later patient reader.

GREATNESS of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime. This is too evident, and the observation too common, to need any illustration: it is not so common to consider in what ways greatness of dimension, vastness of extent or quantity, has the most striking effect.
    -Edmund Burke
Since the 1970’s people have been rolling dice and missing goblins. Then those goblins have missed them. There have been times when this process has repeated itself interminably, countless times. There have also been times when a Superhero and an evil Lama have traded blows bashing each other for d6 damage at a time over countless 1 minute combat rounds.

Dear reader, I know that the first scenario begins as farcical but quickly turns to astonishment and “Astonishment, as I (‘I’ here means Edmund Burke not me) have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree.” The second scenario goes right to the heart of the sublime a fight between titans with a greatness of dimension. It has a most striking effect on anyone with a soul attuned to the sensuality of struggle.

There is however a very bad man who does not share our sense of aesthetic refinement dear reader. That man is Ben Laurence and he has written a blog post of pure philistinism. Steel yourself dear reader I am about to quote him at length:

(T)here’s something weird about how you can stab Lancelot with a knife 24 times with no chance of killing him. It suggests video game thinking, as if he had a life bar that could be "full" or "empty", a life bar that grew with each level, and shrunk eat time you got hacked with a sword. (Indeed, it may well have been the source of that video game thinking in part.) My objection to this picture is rather an aesthetic one, both a repulsion to the aesthetic of the life bar, as well as to the associated picture of people taking and dishing out endless beatings, like when the Hulk fights Thor.

As you can see Ben Laurence has entangled the idea of long fights where bashing happens and super heroes. I imagine that this entanglement comes not just from comic books but from the recent Marvel Movies. I imagine that Ben is sick of the Marvel Movies and that this has created a distaste for protracted melee combat. These video game and Marvel associations have created an association in his head that he terms this the “endless pounding aesthetic.”

I want to highlight what I said in the last paragraph, that “in his head” part because the rules and mechanics of Dnd really only take on aesthetic qualities when our minds interpret them into events. Dnd primarily exists aesthetically in our private and shared mental spaces. I would argue (some other time) even when we use miniatures and other play aids. The endless pounding aesthetic is an outgrowth of Marvel Movies or video games because the is what we have been feeding ourselves aesthetically. To alter the aesthetics of endless pounding we don’t need to change the rules or mechanics, but our internal appendix N. If you will. 

Here we see the long fight with both endless small wounds and lot of missing

Endless pounding is not the sole provenance of the action movies of late stage capitalism. It is also native to middle stage capitalism (I guess I’m going to call it that). Watch Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. He fights a one on one protracted battle. The length of the battle is how we know it is important. It dazzles and astonishes us. As the battle wears on we see more desperation, cuts, and superficial wounds across Flynn’s face. The battle develops its own narrative. It ebbs and flows it has time for quips. That is the sublime naturing of endless pounding; narrative heft generated through length attrition, “greatness of dimension” as Edmund Burke would say.


This clip shows the OD&D one minute combat round in that they hit each other and then stand around waiting to get hit back

 Another classic example occurs in The Quiet Man. John Wayne and some other actor guy fight it out across the town and then take a break for drinks. What would be a minor squabble between to men takes on an epic quality because of its massive length. The meaning and the import of the fight is conveyed to the audience and by audience I mean both the townsfolk in the movie and us the viewers through endless pounding. It is also here that I will first note that sometimes when two guys pound each other endlessly they start to like each other.
The apotheosis of endless pounding comes from John Carpenter’s They Live. Slavoj Žižek has done an excellent job discussing how meaning and narrative are conveyed through the fight but I want to highlight it for the fact that that meaning is all buried under brutal interminable testosterone fueled pounding. By the end our protagonists are left bruised and brutalized. They have gradually chipped away at each other’s stamina. This fight also does not result in death but in a closer mutual understanding between its belligerents.

Armed with these cultural touchstones we can imagine endless pounding as a way to sublimate the common scrapper or ruffian into an epic warrior and a meaningless melee into a profound struggle through the sheer magnitude of its dimension. The meaningless becomes meaningful through astonishment.

I was not being completely honest earlier when I dismissed the aesthetic implications of mechanics in our games. If we want to invoke the power of the endless struggle of 20th Century film we may need a mechanical way to show that the magnitude of a fight can astonish and change the belligerents, most notably pounding between two men leads to affection.

The Bromance Pounding Rule:

This rule is designed to codify the fact that when two manly men engage in an endless pounding it can stimulate manly respect and affection. When two men engage in battle they may grow into friends and instead of killing each other wind up embracing.

The rule is applied in the following manner

Step 1: The Dm decides that a fight is between two men. This is solely at Dm’s discretion as to what that means. Factors to be considered include but are not limited to: alignment, intelligence level, gender, character class. You may wish to limit this to fights involving fighters or “fighting-men”

Step 2:  The Dm sets what we we call the “Bromance Number” to 0.

Step 3: Every time someone takes damage in the fight increase the Bromance Number by 1.

Step 4: If the Bromance Number is Greater than 1, add lowest Charisma modifier to the Bromance Number and roll a d20. If the result is lower than the Bromance Number, the fighters no longer wish to fight but to embrace and tell the other how strong and manly they are.

This rule will hopefully help the players to appreciate the sublime aesthetics of endless pounding.


  1. I remember a meme that I'm only able to link via iFunny because blogger doesn't allow for images, but it's very relevant.

    1. That is exactly the fight from The Quiet Man.


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