Grognard is an odd term that many of us in the Dungeons and Dragons community have taken on as our own to describe a particular group of players that, whether or not we know the terminology, most of us have encountered if we have spent any time in a scene where there is a dedicated fanbase. This includes most tabletop gaming communities, as well as video gamers, sports fans, as well as many other groups.
Originally the term comes from the Old French root word “grogner”, which describes someone who grunts, growls, or snarls like an animal. Though, it was also used to describe someone who would grunt or snort their disapproval to an idea, which more closely follows how the term is used at the gaming table, though if you have an oinker in your group, I guess either use of the word is accurate.
The story of the term “grognard” actually starts in the Napoleonic Wars (1803 to 1815) and may have been coined by Napoleon Bonaparte himself. He used it as a term of endearment for a group of veteran grenadiers who would constantly complain, even in the presence of Emperor Napoleon.
As for the term’s use in D&D is generally reserved for older players, or at least those with a good amount of experience with the game, who complain about how it used to be better in previous versions. Beyond that, it extends to players who refuse to play a newer version of the game because they prefer older versions for one reason or another, or to a lesser extent, just those who complain for no real reason.
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The most recent uprising of grognards came about when Wizards of the Coast released Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Many fans of the game didn’t like the simplified classes and systems, and many more didn’t like that version 3.5 wasn’t around for very long and that they had to go out and get all new books for this new version when it still felt like they had just purchased their 3.5 stuff.
I will fully admit that I was a grognard when Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition came out. I was, and still am, a huge fan of version 3.5 and I just really didn’t like the simplicity or most of the systems in 4th Edition.
It took me meeting some new players for our old group that turned me around on 4th Edition. I still have yet played it myself, but we have a couple of people in our group right now who had never played D&D before the 4th edition and gave it a try just because it was a more streamlined version of the game. They would not have had any inkling to play 5th edition with us if they had not cut their teeth on the 4th edition first.
Though I have never met one, I am sure there must be some grognards our there who are sitting there right now in a game talking about how much better the last edition of the game was and how this new one is too complicated and too hard or something. Maybe there will be hope for them in version 5.5 or 6 if they come out.
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It isn’t just the version that these grognards let ruin a game for them. When the 4th edition came out, our group split in two. One group continued to play version 3.5, while some moved on to the 4th edition, with a few playing with both groups. We have since merged as a group for the 5th edition, but that change lost us a player.
It’s not that this player doesn’t like 5th edition; he enjoys it. He doesn’t play with us anymore because we started playing online using Fantasy Grounds. After all, a few in our group have moved away since the last version came out, and this allows us to have a weekly game with mostly the same group.
Even though this is easier for everyone, he refuses to play online because he doesn’t like not having his character sheet and dice in hand when he plays. He also doesn’t like how he can’t see everyone’s face when we play since we use Discord to communicate, and he doesn’t feel like he can connect properly with the rest of us or read the DM to see what he might do next.
And that’s fine.
We still hang out, we are still friends, and otherwise, nothing else has changed; he doesn’t prefer to play the way we do and has since found another group he is enjoying. There isn’t any animosity there, and there wasn’t when he played with us on Fantasy Grounds the first couple of times, either. Even if he was a grognard to the fullest, it just isn’t his thing, and we all respect that.
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That brings me to my last point about grognards: how to deal with them if they do make their way into your group. Go back to the origin of the word, treat them like old soldiers and listen to their “war” stories from back in the day when things were better, the dragons were bigger, and the systems were better even though they had to roll their dice up up a hill both ways to land a critical. You might learn something.
Or maybe it will give you an idea for a new house rule that will allow everyone to have a little more fun, grognards or not. After all, that’s why we all play, just for the fun of it.
Creative Commons credit: Grumpy Game Enemy by Michael Gibbons.
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