People flee a skeleton knight at a table

Handling the Table Personality: The Grognard

Guest Writer: Christopher Bishop

 

Unimpressed player

Art by Alanna Bishop © 2017

Our previous installment revolved around the meta-gamer.  This installment focuses on the Grognard, the veteran of many table forays.  Since the advent of tabletop roleplaying in 1974 folks have been crowding around the table to roll bones for decades now.  Some, played in high school, a little in college or the military (or all of the above such as myself) and gaming became almost a way of life.  Friday nights when non gaming folks were going out for dinners or to local taverns, these stalwart soldiers of the imagination crowded around tables filled with dice, soda, chips, pizza and papers to fight against the terrors that ordinary men could not imagine.  Some remained loyal to a game type and never experimented with other systems, others tried everything that came out.

Regardless of the game they play, one thing holds true for these gamers.  They have been there, seen it, killed it and got the experience points to show for it.  The youthful teenagers of the 70’s have become the grizzled, grey haired player at the table.  Intractable, undeniably experienced they bring their wealth of knowledge to every encounter, though they might not always be forthcoming ESPECIALLY in groups with mixed age ranges.  Often times for newer GM’s they can even be intimidating, when that slight laugh wrinkle by their eyes creases like a gunfighter squinting before they skin their smoke wagons for the showdown, letting the GM know they have figured out their plot or trick, without the Grognard saying a word.

So how does the aspiring GM handle the Grognard?  How do you keep things interesting for the player who has seen and done it all?  The best place to start is to first figure out this personalities motivations.  First and foremost the thing to consider is this: They are there because THEY LOVE the game.  The memories most of these veteran gamers have locked away in their cranium could fill volumes of adventure novels.  Secondly, never mistake them for the meta gamer.  The biggest difference between the two personality types is, the Grognard may go through a module multiple times, but in the spirit of the game they love, they will take each and every time for what it is.  I have probably ran the Temple of Elemental Evil or Keep on the Borderlands about 20 times each over the years.  I think each time running these modules has netted a different experience with my players, despite some of them having gone through these modules multiple times.  So how do you keep things challenging for the veteran gamer?  Hopefully the steps below will help to alleviate some concerns.

 

Step 1: The Conversation

As with the previous article, I always recommend talking with each one of your players if they are new to your gaming group.  In convention gaming this can be even more critical as your limited time span will never truly give you a chance to become fully familiar with your players, so those few minutes leading up to the game starting are the perfect time to have that get to know you session.  What is more important with the Grognard is that you establish a sort of respectful demeanor from the start.  While you should always be respectful to players, those with the grey badge of knowledge about their scalp are usually especially receptive to courtesy.  Allow them a few battle stories or tangents because often times they will add flavor or perhaps even give you last minute ideas for future use.

Also make sure you discuss any house rules or variants to your GMing style over the core rules.  Nothing a Grognard hates worse than getting blind sided by a house rule they never saw coming.  This can sometimes shift them from Veteran to Rules Lawyer quickly, and you can bank on the fact they probably know the core rules as well if not better than you do.

 

Step 2: You had better prep!

Nothing brings greater pleasure to a Grognard than passive aggressively dissecting your plot.  Trying to get by with the magical “wing it” spell will not work against this mighty table personality.  Therefore if you have veteran gamers at your table, do them the courtesy of prepping and spending some actual time developing your storyline and setting.  It is better to have a small hub that is well fleshed out and the illusion of a sandbox (Mine has been the City of Endhome from Lost City of Barakus supplement for Frog God Games) then to shoot too large and have an empty land that appears full of options but really is only loosely fleshed out.  Recurring NPC’s that are fluid and move around (They are not just sitting around a shop waiting for the PC’s), small events or festivals, or even one off encounter events that leave the town talking are useful for keeping your gamers on their toes and making them feel part of a living breathing world.  This step will keep them coming back to your table over and over and aids the illusion of this small point of light being an active hub.

 

Step 3: How to curb tangents

So if you have spent any time at all gaming, you have probably had a few game sessions devolve into hour long tangents.  This can be very frustrating for an aspiring GM, but it can also be useful if

Storytelling player

Art by Alanna Bishop © 2017

you take notes.  Grognards love to regale us with stories of yesteryear, and past characters epic adventures, messed up gaming sessions or even pop culture references that invariably come up through the course of gaming. (Monty Python quotes anyone??) Do not despair!  Tangents can be a great way to break up a particularly monotonous part of the game (Examples: One character doing separate non party goals like trying to learn spells or haggling with a merchant for equipment) and the Grognard telling other players around the table of this or that event can buy you time to take another player aside and work through tedious bits of bookkeeping.

The hard part however is directing those tangents to useful times, such as breaks or bookkeeping times and not having dissolve a combat or mess up an important bit of plot that will be needed later.  If a tangent start erupting from your veteran players, gently ask them to finish the important bit they are on but assure them that you want to hear the tale, but want to finish the business at hand first.  Most folks will see the sense in this and I cannot recall a single time where I received attitude at this suggestion.  Everyone wants to be heard at the table in some fashion, so being respectful in this circumstances can go a long way in insuring more games to come.

 

Step 4: An uncomfortable truth

The next part of my Grognard document is a bit of a touchy subject.  But I feel it does need to be addressed.  Those of us that started this hobby in the 70’s to early 80’s are not getting any younger.  Time takes its toll on us even if it does not seem to affect our characters.  At some of the more recent conventions I have attended, I began to really take note of how haggard and unhealthy a lot of us still treat our gaming temples.  I am not pointing fingers here folks.  I am just as guilty and struggle just the same to break my mentality of gaming being pizza time or soda time.  As Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes and Diverticulosis have become present factors in my life though, I have been forced to kind of reevaluate the choices I bring to the table.

In the end bring a veggie tray, or healthier chips to the table.  Swap out the soda for less sugary teas, or water.  A lot of times we munch at games more for brain fuel than actual hunger needs.  Sure, it is not as yummy as pizza.  But it will keep those hearts in our chest pumping a little while longer without clogs, keep those dice hands rolling a little better and keep our minds that much sharper, instead of bogging down our digestive systems trying to process upwards of 2000 calories in one meal.  I would never suggest forcing this on anyone, but just bring the veggie tray, set it down and folks will gravitate towards it anyway.  Never judge anyone for what they are choosing to eat mind you, but make the healthier choice more readily available and our own sense of complacency will often times win out.  Lets make sure our gaming Grognards can be around for many adventures to come!

In summary, the Grognard can be a wonderful player to have at your table.  Their breadth of experience can lend interesting ideas to come to fruition that lesser experienced players may not have  even realized were possible.  The big deal with most veteran gamers is respect.  They want to sit at the table where everyone treats each other courteously, while still being able to rib each other from time to time.  They want a solid game with clear cut house rules, a well developed plot and reliable mechanics.  Give them that and you have gained a powerful ally to your story telling, that will only help the story grow.

Next time we will examine the Rules Lawyer and,  its’ more pleasant counterpart the Rules Guru.

Keep rolling them bones!

Chris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Christopher Bishop

Artwork by Alanna Bishop

 

Our previous installment revolved around the meta-gamer.  This installment focuses on the Grognard, the grognard, the veteran of many table forays.  Since the advent of tabletop roleplaying in 1974 folks have been crowding around the table to roll bones for decades now.  Some, played in high school, a little in college or the military (or all of the above such as myself) and gaming became almost a way of life.  Friday nights when non gaming folks were going out for dinners or to local taverns, these stalwart soldiers of the imagination crowded around tables filled with dice, soda, chips, pizza and papers to fight against the terrors that ordinary men could not imagine.  Some remained loyal to a game type and never experimented with other systems, others tried everything that came out.

 

Regardless of the game they play, one thing holds true for these gamers.  They have been there, seen it, killed it and got the experience points to show for it.  The youthful teenagers of the 70’s have become the grizzled, grey haired player at the table.  Intractable, undeniably experienced they bring their wealth of knowledge to every encounter, though they might not always be forthcoming ESPECIALLY in groups with mixed age ranges.  Often times for newer GM’s they can even be intimidating, when that slight laugh wrinkle by their eyes creases like a gunfighter squinting before they skin their smoke wagons for the showdown, letting the GM know they have figured out their plot or trick, without the Grognard saying a word.

 

So how does the aspiring GM handle the Grognard?  How do you keep things interesting for the player who has seen and done it all?  The best place to start is to first figure out this personalities motivations.  First and foremost the thing to consider is this: They are there because THEY LOVE the game.  The memories most of these veteran gamers have locked away in their cranium could fill volumes of adventure novels.  Secondly, never mistake them for the meta gamer.  The biggest difference between the two personality types is, the Grognard may go through a module multiple times, but in the spirit of the game they love, they will take each and every time for what it is.  I have probably ran the Temple of Elemental Evil or Keep on the Borderlands about 20 times each over the years.  I think each time running these modules has netted a different experience with my players, despite some of them having gone through these modules multiple times.  So how do you keep things challenging for the veteran gamer?  Hopefully the steps below will help to alleviate some concerns.

 

Step 1: The Conversation

 

As with the previous article, I always recommend talking with each one of your players if they are new to your gaming group.  In convention gaming this can be even more critical as your limited time span will never truly give you a chance to become fully familiar with your players, so those few minutes leading up to the game starting are the perfect time to have that get to know you session.  What is more important with the Grognard is that you establish a sort of respectful demeanor from the start.  While you should always be respectful to players, those with the grey badge of knowledge about their scalp are usually especially receptive to courtesy.  Allow them a few battle stories or tangents because often times they will add flavor or perhaps even give you last minute ideas for future use.

Also make sure you discuss any house rules or variants to your GMing style over the core rules.  Nothing a Grognard hates worse than getting blind sided by a house rule they never saw coming.  This can sometimes shift them from Veteran to Rules Lawyer quickly, and you can bank on the fact they probably know the core rules as well if not better than you do.

 

Step 2: You had better prep!

 

Nothing brings greater pleasure to a Grognard than passive aggressively dissecting your plot.  Trying to get by with the magical “wing it” spell will not work against this mighty table personality.  Therefore if you have veteran gamers at your table, do them courtesy of prepping and spending some actual time developing your storyline and setting.  It is better to have a small hub that is well fleshed out and the illusion of a sandbox (Mine has been the City of Endhome from Lost City of Barakus supplement for Frog God Games) then to shoot too large and have an empty land that appears full of options but really is only loosely fleshed out.  Recurring NPC’s that are fluid and move around (They are not just sitting around a shop waiting for the PC’s), small events or festivals, or even one off encounter events that leave the town talking are useful for keeping your gamers on their toes and making them feel part of a living breathing world.  This step will keep them coming back to your table over and over and aids the illusion of this small point of light being an active hub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: How to curve tangents

 

So if you have spent any time at all gaming, you have probably had a few game sessions devolve into hour long tangents.  This can be very frustrating for an aspiring GM, but it can also be useful if you take notes.  Grognard’s love to regale us with stories of yesteryear, and past characters epic adventures, messed up gaming sessions or even pop culture references that invariably come up through the course of gaming. (Monty Python quotes anyone??) Do not despair!  Tangents can be a great way to break up a particularly monotonous part of the game (Examples: One character doing separate non party goals like trying to learn spells or haggling with a merchant for equipment) and the Grognard telling other players around the table of this or that event can buy you time to take another player aside and work through tedious bits of bookkeeping.

The hard part however is directing those tangents to useful times, such as breaks or bookkeeping times and not having dissolve a combat or mess up an important bit of plot that will be needed later.  If a tangent start erupting from your veteran players, gently ask them to finish the important bit they are on but assure them that you want to hear the tale, but want to finish the business at hand first.  Most folks will see the sense in this and I cannot recall a single time where I received attitude at this suggestion.  Everyone wants to be heard at the table in some fashion, so being respectful in this circumstances can go a long way in insuring more games to come.

 

Step 4: An uncomfortable truth

 

The next part of my Grognard document is a bit of a touchy subject.  But I feel it does need to be addressed.  Those of us that started this hobby in the 70’s to early 80’s are not getting any younger.  Time takes its toll on us even if it does not seem to affect our characters.  At some of the more recent conventions I have attended, I began to really take note of how haggard and unhealthy a lot of us still treat our gaming temples.  I am not pointing fingers here folks.  I am just as guilty and struggle just the same to break my mentality of gaming being pizza time or soda time.  As Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes and Diverticulosis have become present factors in my life though, I have been forced to kind of reevaluate the choices I bring to the table.

In the end bring a veggie tray, or healthier chips to the table.  Swap out the soda for less sugary teas, or water.  A lot of times we munch at games more for brain fuel than actual hunger needs.  Sure, it is not as yummy as pizza.  But it will keep those hearts in our chest pumping a little while longer without clogs, keep those dice hands rolling a little better and keep our minds that much sharper, instead of bogging down our digestive systems trying to process upwards of 2000 calories in one meal.  I would never suggest forcing this on anyone, but just bring the veggie tray, set it down and folks will gravitate towards it anyway.  Never judge anyone for what they are choosing to eat mind you, but make the healthier choice more readily available and our own sense of complacency will often times win out.  Lets make sure our gaming grognards can be around for many adventures to come!

 

In summary, the Grognard can be a wonderful player to have at your table.  Their breadth of experience can lend interesting ideas to come to fruition that lesser experienced players may not have  even realized were possible.  The big deal with most veteran gamers is respect.  They want to sit at the table where everyone treats each other courteously, while still being able to rib each other from time to time.  They want a solid game with clear cut house rules, a well developed plot and reliable mechanics.  Give them that and you have gained a powerful ally to your story telling, that will only help the story grow.

 

Next time we will examine the Rules Lawyer and,  its’ more pleasant counterpart the Rules Guru

 

Keep rolling them bones!

 

Chris

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