Grognard? Me? Guess so.

What is a grognard?

The term “grognard” has traditionally been used to denote an “old soldier”; but has become a pejorative term that, until recently, was used (usually in a good-natured manner) almost solely in the wargaming hobby. It means a “crusty old wargamer-type”; someone who is likely to grumble and complain about new versions of rules and/or miniatures; or about historical accuracy (or more likely, lack thereof); how much better things used to be, like when H. G. Wells’s Little Wars was the only wargame rules in town.

A grognard is a stereotype. This is important to know, because like any stereotype, it is never universally accurate. Most grognards likely arrived at miniature wargaming via the old cardboard counter-filled, massive bookshelf wargames like those put out by Avalon Hill or Victory Games; games that could (and did) often take days or weeks to play. They will happily argue ad infinitum about the brilliance or stupidity of the tactics and strategies of historical generals; or about the differing outcome of historical battles had the terrain or force composition been different, or if something like dysentery hadn’t played a part; or about the correct color of the straps on the uniforms of Hessian mercenaries employed during the American War of Independence (I said the correct color, not the one you painted on your miniatures). They’re also stereotypically frugal (i.e. cheap), especially where miniatures are concerned; most favor the smaller scales (10mm-6mm) because of the relatively low-cost of the miniatures, and also because to a grognard, the actual miniatures are far less important than the game itself. Grognards will play the same historical battle over and over and over again, with little to no variation. They consider this fun. They are notorious gatekeepers to the wargaming hobby, so as you would expect, grognards really only get along with other grognards.

So: am I a grognard? No. Not in the wargaming sense, anyway. (Although I will admit to some frustration at the “new rules every two years” trend in wargaming. But I don’t bitch about it much. I just don’t buy the new rules. I don’t get to play wargames very often nowadays anyway.) However; lately, the term “grognard” has been broadened to include roleplaying gamers. It has been applied in this manner by younger, newer gamers; and it is most certainly meant to be insulting.

This week I’m turning 48. You think I’d have a thicker skin by now, but no. I recently listened to a Technical Difficulties podcast (or perhaps it was The Roleplaying Exchange; they are pretty closely enmeshed with regard to rotating players), and one of the regulars used the term to generalize gamers older than he, implying we were all cut from the same cloth. I felt a knee-jerk resentment to being categorized as a roleplaying grognard because of my age. That’s because I still associate the term with hobby gatekeeping, and I’m not a gatekeeping kind of guy. I like to think I encourage everyone I can. The fact that I find this particular guy smarmy, annoying and a colossal douchebag at the best of times is only part of the reason I immediately wanted to punch him in the fucking face (a sure sign of grognardism if ever there was one).

As near as I can guess, to assholes like this genius, a RPG grognard is defined as a combination of any and/or all of the following:

  • a gamer that was born at any point in the prior millennium; and/or
  • a person who has run or played in a roleplaying game that was published prior to 2010; and/or
  • a person who is old enough and/or educated enough to know the actual definition of the term “grognard”; and/or
  • a person who is aware of who E. Gary Gygax was, who understands that roleplaying games were a thing that existed prior to Critical Role, and that (despite his admitted awesomeness) Matt Mercer didn’t create them; and/or
  • a gamer who remembers a time when roleplaying games, comic books, science fiction, action figures and miniature wargames were all considered nerdy, and it was far from cool to be a nerd; and/or
  • a gamer who remembers there was a time where there was no such thing as the Internet, and rulebooks existed in a form other than pdf, and who perhaps still prefers physical media to electronic; and/or
  • a gamer who doesn’t want anyone new in “their” hobby, because anyone new isn’t doing it right.

I meet all the above criteria except for the last one, plus I want to punch that guy in the face so fucking bad; so I guess, by his standards, anyway, I’m a roleplaying grognard.

But…with a little word-switching Hocus-Pocus, I’m gonna blow your mind and show that gatekeeping isn’t solely a grognard thing to do. (Fun facts: Hocus-Pocus is an olde-tyme word magicians used to use when pulling off tricks, and also the title of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Also, Kurt Vonnegut was a brilliant and transformative writer, in case that wasn’t apparent for all the young’uns out there. See? I can be a dick, too.)

Let’s look at that last criterion there, and let’s switch the word “new” with “old”. Anyone “old” in the hobby isn’t doing it right; so say those new gamers in the hobbies we enjoy who complain most vociferously of grognardism. Hypocritical? Yes. Ironic? Indeed; certainly by Alanis Morrissette’s dubious definition, anyway (Alanis Morrissette is a musician who actually plays musical instruments in addition to singing her own songs, for all you young’uns out there). Gatekeeping? You bet.

So, I’m not doing it right because:

  • As a GM, I prefer roleplaying to roll-playing; but I most often run games in which players roll actual dice to determine the success or failure of their characters’ actions; in other words, there’s a definite game mechanic;
  • As a GM, I will apply appropriate consequences to stupid or ill-considered character actions (e.g. “I kill the wizard’s cat to show him I mean business”);
  • As a GM or a player, I don’t want your ambiguously-aged (but probably too fucking young) anime-inspired “cat-girl”; your sparkly vampire; your over-the-top evil psychopath; your personal kink proxy or your stupid homebrewed were-scorpion character (yes, that actually happened) in my group, regardless of whether you believe it limits your personal expression;
  • As a GM or a player, I will never, regardless of your gender or the gender of your character, roleplay a sex scene with you, whether you think that makes me inhibited and/or intolerant or not (again, yes, that actually happened);
  • As a GM, I prefer you put your fucking phone or tablet away for the duration of the game session; checking it only during breaks or in emergencies, because I consider it rude and disrespectful to your fellow gamers (I know, crazy, right?);
  • As a GM, unless it’s a one-shot or the first time in a new system; I expect you to be somewhat familiar with the setting, the basic rules and your character’s capabilities (e.g. you don’t need to know every episode of Star Trek, but you should at least know what a Klingon is).

The above list is by no means exhaustive. It’s just what I could think about before my Zoom meeting. To the “new” gamers who subscribe to this viewpoint, i.e. that all the above means I’m doing it wrong and therefore am a grognard (especially that asshole on the podcast), I say, loudly and proudly:

Get off my fucking lawn.

12 thoughts on “Grognard? Me? Guess so.

  1. Dave Stone

    Never considered myself a grognard, but according to that list I am ! Like yourself Keith the last one didn’t fit as I have spent the entire time I’ve played RPG’s or wargames trying to help people into the hobby, and given up so much of my free time, to make it easier for people.
    It’s very sad in society today we have so many snowflakes, that think their opinion is law, and if they could only get over themselves, they would find many seasoned gamers only too willing to help others ! I believe in our generation it was called common courtesy ! LOL

    1. The Angry Piper Post author

      I did find it amusing, Dave, that someone who was characterizing older gamers as being generally intolerant and grognard-ish had no concept of the irony of doing so on a podcast, where presumably anyone could hear his own generalizations.
      Well, almost anyone.
      Everyone knows we older gamers don’t know what podcasts are and still listen to phonographs.

  2. Dick Garrison

    Touched a nerve did he?

    Sorry couldn’t resist that, I agree totally with you on this, though I would never consider myself a Grognard’ I do meet a couple of the criteria (I am cheap!).

    What really annoys me about this is the “you are doing it wrong!” aspect that infects so much of our hobby, is everything old better than everything new? NO. Is everything new better that it used to be? NO. Is playing the same battle over and over ad’ infinitum wrong? NO (boring yes, but not wrong), I think in a way the irony of all this is that it’s the very lack or rules (see ironic!) regarding how you actually DO this hobby of ours is what leads to this “snobbery”, in as much as say you play “golf” you may be good or bad, you may have all the “kit” or a couple of clubs chucked in a garbage bag, but you basically play the same game in the same way, however if you are a “gamer” that seems to encompass TTG’s, CCG’s, RPG’s, figure painters, diorama builders, military history buff’s, Board gamers, the list goes on and on , but we all get “lumped” under the same general term, which is not a problem to the more rational of us, we all do our “thing” in our own way, but to certain elements this does seem to promote the “You don’t do what I do, so you must be doing it wrong” attitude.

    Or to put it another way, you get w*nkers everywhere!!

    I didn’t even hear it and I want to punch him now too!!

    Cheers Roger.

    1. The Angry Piper Post author

      Imagine if you did hear it. You’d be uncontrollable, Roger.
      It’s funny; older dudes like me get accused of being gatekeepers, but the “younger” generation thinks we do it wrong. (OK, Boomer.) The sad part is that both old and new gamers bring something to the table (if we’re still using tables; that may be an antiquated concept); instead of being dicks about it we could be playing a lot of great games together. Don’t like something in a game? Don’t play it. Don’t like how someone plays or runs a game? Don’t play with them. But don’t assume everyone is the same.

  3. Jeremy Winstanley

    Well said, Keith. Being of a similar age to yourself and someone who started as a role-player, rather than a wargamer, I have fond memories of when you got everything you needed to play in one boxed set or a couple of books, supplemented by a handful of generic polyhedral dice. No need for multiple hardback books that require a bank loan for or bespoke dice that can only be used for a specific game system and certainly no disparaging or disdainful looking down the nose at those “old school” gamers who are “doing it wrong”. I’ve been role-playing and wargaming for approximately 40 years and been doing it MY way and enjoying it. For all those millenial fuckwits who cannot enjoy something unless it’s “relevant” or has “meaning”, I echo your sentiments exactly – Get the fuck off my lawn.

    1. The Angry Piper Post author

      Yeah, Jeremy…something about that guy just rubbed me the wrong way. I’m all about new games; last year around this time I bought Delta Green, Red Markets and the latest editions of both D&D and Call of Cthulhu, to say nothing of how much time and money I’ve devoted to Star Trek Adventures. In other words, just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m not into new stuff. We’re in a golden age of RPGs, and there’s a lot of great games out there. New systems, new settings and new game mechanics are making the RPG world pretty amazing. But that doesn’t mean the old stuff is wrong, and that all “older” gamers aren’t open to new things. Kinda like it doesn’t mean all younger gamers are insufferable dickbags like that guy, who I still want to punch in the face so fucking bad…

  4. Occam's Spork

    You are not a Roleplaying Grognard A.P.

    As someone who has known you for almost thirty years, I can say you are merely a Real-Life Gognard.

    But gaming-wise you are as youthful as a tank of guppy fry.

  5. Kieron Mulholland

    The trouble with the younger generation is that they don’t realise that it really was better in our day. 🙂

  6. Matt

    Wow, I have played exactly four roleplaying games (if you exclude WH40k) in my life and I still match the criteria for that list except the final one! In case you’re wondering it was Vampire: The Masquerade.

    Your outrage reminds me of reading an “article” (and that’s being generous) about Oldhammer which was one of the most patronising things I’ve ever read. “OMG OLD PEOPLE PLAY WARHAMMER! LOOK AT HOW KOOKY THE FIGURES ARE!” I was pissed off and I don’t even *play* Oldhammer games, I just love the minis.

    I agree with a lot of Roger’s post. We can poke fun at people who spend $50 on five plastic Terminators, or who have to get the coats on their 10mm minis the exact historical shade of blue, or who run out to buy the latest $80 rulebook, but at the end of the day we’re all in the same hobby, whether we just roleplay, or just paint minis, or wargame, whatever it is.

    And happy 48th birthday! Next month I’m 49, so yay, I guess.

    1. The Angry Piper Post author

      Thanks, Matt. You know, I had to dress myself down a few years ago for the same thing. I’m not a LARPer, and to be honest, I used to sneer at those who would dress up and pretend to be an elf or fairy or unicorn or something similar, because I felt it reflected badly on the rest of us. To my mind, everyone already thinks all gamers do that as it is.
      Then I had a reality check. That’s the way THEY hobby. Who the hell am I to judge that?
      It’s a bit hypocritical of me to point out the dorks, isn’t it? I sit around a table with five grown-ass men and pretend to be a wizard. They just go the extra mile and add costumes. While it’s not my bag (and never will be), who am I to say they’re doing it wrong?
      In the 90’s I used to work in a comic shop, and we had a regular customer who spent an awful lot of money on chainmail gauntlets, studded leather wrist bracelets and oversized belt buckles, because that was the way he liked to dress. Of course, we all laughed at him. But lately, I’ve thought about how much money I spend in a given year on miniatures…miniatures that only I enjoy. Who’s laughing now?
      And thanks for the birthday wishes. A premature Happy Birthday to you too, my friend!

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