Monday, November 7, 2016

What is a Grognard?

If you've been in the RPG community for any length of time, you've likely come across the term "grognard" before. The term, as you see according to this Urban Dictionary entry, refers to a gamer who prefers an older edition of a game to any newer ones. This preference is often intense, and it may come with long diatribes about how their edition, despite being older, is superior to any games that came later. Sometimes it's used to refer to players who prefer the style of old-school RPGs over new-school ones, as well. Players who, for example, believe that the DM should be the creator and master of everything in the game, instead of a referee who simply interprets the rules as they exist in the book.

Back in AD&D, we got one spell, and we were happy!
Now, if you know me, you know that I have a special place in my heart for etymology. It's why I've written articles like What is a Swashbuckler? and What is a Paladin?, which both explore and explain the linguistic origins of these words, and how their original meanings were quite different from what we picture when we hear them. So, when it came to grognard, I was curious about where it came from, and how it came into use.

According to Merriam Webster, the primary definition of the word is, "an old soldier." Which makes sense when you think about it. After all, when we talk about gamers who have been in the community for some time, we often refer to them as the old guard. There is a more specific definition, though. When capitalized, the word refers to the original imperial guard formed by Napoleon. The old guard which led the final charge at the Battle of Waterloo, in fact.

There's a metaphor there, implying that grognards are the soldiers of a lost cause. The remnants of an empire whose time has passed, but who refuse to leave their posts. Whether that's an implication we meant to bring with the word, and if it's a veiled dig at gamers who always talk about the editions they first started playing with, I can't say. But it is something you might want to think about before you use this term, whether you mean it as a compliment or an insult.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday update. While it was short and sweet, I do hope there are folks out there who enjoyed it. If you would like to support Improved Initiative so I can keep making posts like this one, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a little bread in my jar. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, what's stopping you?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I would say that us old Grognards started using the word towards each other, so it's kind of like other words that could be derogatory, but when used by us for us it's okay... like Ginger. It's OUR word, YOU don't say that word! lololololol

  3. Hi Neal. This is a cool article, but the term is actually used differently then what your sources give it credit for. Grognard is French and translates roughly to "Groaning Soldier". It dates back to Napoleon, a few of his commanders were so influential that they could actually groan and complain about orders and get away with it. This term became associated in the wargaming community as an experienced and well-seasoned player.