Thursday, April 02, 2009


Let me lay out my credentials. I started playing with Airfix plastic soldiers when I was but a child, and quickly graduated to the Milton Bradley/American Heritage Series of games (Dogfight, Battlecry, and Hit the Beach). I got into board wargames in junior high. My first real (hexes and paper chits) wargame was Avalon Hill's Panzer Blitz, and my first issue of S&T was Fall of Rome (1973). I got into RPGs in the fall of '75, in my freshman year of college, back when the game consisted of three little booklets in a fake wood-grain box, along with the Greyhawk supplement.

Yet despite this rich (and aged) heritage, I am afraid I am not a grognard.

"Grognard" is an evolving word. It takes its origin from Napoleon's veteran grenadiers, who had seen their way through many campaigns, and were known as "The Grumblers" (though the modern translation of "grumbler" in french is grognon. It jumped the species boundary into wargaming as a reference to older gamers in general (according to this story from Alan Emerich, quoting Jim Dunnigan).

This was in the mid-seventies, and the phrase quickly spread among the gaming fans. For our group at Purdue University, the term referred to the older gamers at the university's gaming club. Most of these guys were miniatures gamers - primarily WWII armor but some Napoleonics as well (which may have aided the adoption of the name). There was some early friction between the tankers (who would push three tables together, cover it with a green dropcloth, and spend the Sunday afternoon with their tape measures and panzers) and the D&Ders (who would also want three tables for a host of younger gamers, and spend all the time talking). So for me, the term grognard is usually a wargamer, tape-measure and spotting charts in hand.

Now that definition has moved on, so that now a grognard is now an adamant fan of older games, particularly games that are no longer in print, or that have been revised to the point they no longer resemble their original. There is a grapeshot-whiff of nostalgia among these nouveau grogs, which often blossoms into a full-fledged mad-on about anything more recent than Unearthed Arcana. They are fans a particular era, and anything since has gone beyond the pale, jumped the shark, nuked the fridge, and passed into the lower planes in a handbasket.

In the D&D world, these new grogs tends to collect around the time of one of the early basic sets (called the "Holmes Basic" after its editor), aided by the first Monster Manual (back in those days, we got ONE hardback a year, and we LIKED IT!). That puts it about 1977, and was the time when D&D made its big explosion into a larger market. I have a lot of friends who came to the hobby in this era. And it was a good time join, since without a solid grounding in miniatures gaming, those original little booklet rules were pretty darned impenetrable.

So I should be among these later-day grognards. Heck, my history PREDATES theirs. I still have a copy of Tractics on my shelf, for Gary's sake. I should be telling THEM to get off my role-playing lawn.

Yet I can't - I've been an early adapter of many of the revolutions in gaming (Computers, CCGs, prepainted plastic miniatures), have missed others (LARPs, ARGs), and have seen a few that never were (anyone remember Disk Wars?). Why can't I get into the spirit of declaring my own personal golden age, and bemoaning that after that, there came the deluge?

I think part of it is because I see gaming as an evolving thing, sometimes smoothly, and sometimes (like in the break between the tankers and the D&Ders, the arrival of CCGs, or the current edition wars) with a sharp disconnect. Each new generation brings its own experiences to the party, and creates new things. I don't always agree with new developments, but I see potential solutions in the next generation beyond, as opposed to retrenching in the past.

And part of it also the recognition that the first drafts of great new ideas are just that - first drafts. D&D blossomed with problematic rules. Magic: The Gathering was infested with broken cards. Early computer adventure games had, to be kind, primitive graphics. The "Indie Game Movement" has both the blessing and the curse of self-publishing.

I like the original D&D, but I also like the various incarnations of Basic, A&D, 2nd Ed, 3rd Ed, and now 4th Ed. And I will probably be around for 5th and 6th as well, as the conversation continues and the game continues to evolve. The new edition of White Wolf's World of Darkness does not offend me (though I really like what Monte Cook did for them with the same basic building blocks). I've drifted away from Magic and World of Warcraft and many other games, and drifted back (a couple times).

I love my old games, but I'm equally curious about where we go next.

More later,