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.