Understanding Grogs: Trawling the Brown Sea

Coming from the French word for grumbler, “Grognard” is a venerable term that originated in tabletop wargaming and originally referred to the ultra-hardcore types. You know the ones. They’ve been around for centuries, and Chess has had its fair share over the years. You could say that the proverbial "That Guy" has been around and ruining games since the 1480s. There are positive connotations to the term Grognard, however. It may also be a reference to Napoleon’s Vieille Garde, also known as les Grognards, which was a fighting force composed of regiments of the most experienced soldiers in Napoleon’s army. Grognards really are the Old Guard of gaming, and they usually do know their stuff. From my experience, gaming with Grognards can be an absolute blast, but Grogs are also the reason I’ve adopted this as my personal gaming philosophy: No Gaming is better than Bad Gaming.

Since the early days of Kriegsspiel, the definition of Grognard has expanded pretty substantially. It’s not just a term for those guys who argue how the specific usage of the word ‘or’ changes the meaning of an obscure rule in order to give themselves an advantage. There’re whole subsets of grogs, and nowadays just about anyone involved in tabletop or online gaming can be (and probably is) a Grog. Of course, there is one thing that sets most people apart from the true die-hard Grog BattleRagers: they have a modicum of self reflection. Most of the true Grogs are completely blind to their own faults.

BattleTech has had a long and storied history with Grognards; the game is tailor made for them. It’s simulationist (translation: there’re rules for nearly everything, even silly or pointless things); it’s competitive; and it’s as familiar and comfortable as anything born of the 1980s should be. This doesn’t imply that BattleTech is a bad game, though. There are plenty of others that appeal to Grogs as well.

Unfortunately, BattleTech as a franchise has long made a habit of going out of their way to appease this portion of their fanbase. This isn't unusual in and of itself: Paizo has made quite a bit of money doing the same thing. No, the real problem is that Grognards are usually impossible to please. There’re a lot of reasons for this, but most of the time even attempting the please them is futile. Equally unfortunate is that Grognards are also quite difficult to ignore. They’re ‘grumblers’ for a reason, and they tend to be extremely vocal about things that they don’t like. Or just extremely vocal in general.

Those of you familiar with Mechwarrior Online’s forums have probably noticed a startling trend: Everyone bitches about everything while PGI, quite wisely, chooses to ignore most of it and sends the most egregious whining off to Kaetetoa for us to mock. PGI’s response to BattleTech’s Grog-heavy fanbase, that is: ignoring them, has been the ideal one. For every good idea they miss; such as making the LB-10X Autocannon act more like a real shotgun (namely: treating it like a single shell from any other autocannon and having the shell itself widen from a moderate size to say, the width of an Atlas at its maximum range); there are a few thousand people pointlessly complaining about ECM. If ECM is actually a problem, data-mining will prove it. Hyperbole will not.

The reason Grognards aren’t (and shouldn’t be) taken seriously is because those same people would still be complaining about ECM if they changed it from being Electronic Countermeasures to an Electronic Can Materializer that teleported free Mountain Dew to the user once per match. After all, why do they get free soda just for playing when my Yen-Lo-Wang doesn’t?

Not all Grogs are like this, of course. Most Grogs are actually completely reasonable people, albeit usually a touch competitive. They want to play games and have fun just like most players do. Many of them even enjoy the games they play (but don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone). Unfortunately, there are a few Grogs who are absolutely toxic. To help you tell the harmless Grogs from the guys who will happily ruin a game, I’ve decided to put together a little guide.

I'm a published BattleTech author who's also responsible for inflicting the "Let's All Play BattleTech and rewrite Inner Sphere history" thread on the Something Awful forums for the past 2+ years.