Thursday, March 15, 2012

Grognard. Yeah.

I never heard that term before 2005 or so, but I suppose I am one, even by the strictest of definitions, since I was playing tabletop and board wargames in 1975* and didn't bump into D&D til 1977. It's hard to convey how much the hobby landscape changed when D&D hit the wargaming scene, and how much tension it created between the old guard and the new. The blue box set made the game vastly more accessible to the passing trade, and it was suddenly everywhere. It brought new people into hobby shops and to the wargaming cons I attended in the northeast -- people like the late John Wheeler, an ur-DM with a booming voice, an epic beard, and a gazillion painted minis you weren't allowed to touch in-game. My brother once made that mistake during a con game, and found his wrist locked in Mr. Wheeler's iron grip and his ears buffeted with the auditorium-filling warning, "DON'T... TOUCH... THE... FIGURES!" Or Mike Cooper, another DM who thought nothing of running Saturday morning D&D games for, like, 16 screaming kids at the local FLGS, and whose method of crowd control was GENIUS: in his campaign, there were thunderclouds that were attracted to noise, and zapped your PC for 1d6 hp if you got too chatty or talked out of turn.

The reaction of the grognards to this influx was not generous. The old guard were sticklers for history and rather annoyed by the presence of D&D players at their cons. I think it was at MaineCon '78 that a bunch of grognards trying to have a nice quiet Battle of Agincourt despite the thespian outpourings of the D&D game at the next table began a Monty-Python-Mr.-Gumby chant of "D and D!... D and D!", the sarcastic intent of which was lost on the D&D players, who picked up the cheer in kind.

You see, my grognard elders were ex-Army guys who had been in the 'Nam, liked to puff on (tobacco) pipes and guzzle bad coffee out of styrofoam cups, and thought the D&D guys were stoner hippies with no sense of decorum. The new breed brought a huge inrush of cash at the FLGS, though, and I don't recall anyone turning down my money when I bought yet another pack of Heritage Fantastiques or five bottles of Polly-S paint. Ultimately D&D took the wind out of the sails of the wargaming crowd -- by 1980 or so it felt like the zeitgeist had flown. FLGS's got a new lease on life when Warhammer came on the scene, and as we know, the money has followed fad after fad since then, from M:tG to whatever it is now that I'm blissfully unaware of. I love D&D but I do feel nostalgic for the camaraderie of the tabletop wargamers at times!

 *at the tender age of 10 I was playing Richtofen's War, PanzerBlitz, MicroArmor, DGUTS, and Afrika Korps.

2 comments:

  1. I got a good hearty laugh out of that thundercloud.

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