"Gromeo? Did I hear you right? You're asking about Gromeo?"
You see a haggard old man grinning at you. He pats the stool next to him, indicating that you should sit down. He nods his head to the bar to suggest that a drink might help to lubricate his throat - a prerequisite to helping you.
He's filthy and the many stains you see on his torn and tatty clothes suggest that he's got all the major food groups covered, as well as blood, shit and pee. What can you do? No one else responded to the call for Gromeo. You sit down and wave the barman over. Coins change hands and drinks are delivered. The old man brightens up. You raise the question again.
"Well, son, if we were to start at the beginning... and I think you want to start at the beginning? Yes? Good.
"Reason is: you need to understand about Cornelius and Lada Niva. I don't know how they met or what led to that poor bastard marrying Lada, but somehow, Cornelius ended up being married to this right bitch of a lady. Big. Not fat, mind, but tall and broad shouldered. She could chop firewood as well as any woodsman and I certainly wouldn't want to get in a fight with her.
"As I understand it, they came down here for the same reason most if us end up in the Border Princes - they were getting away from something. In his case, it was druids.
"Now I hear you say 'nah - surely not? Druids are peace loving carers of nature, aren't they?' Truth is, I don't know, but he'd done something to piss them off royally and he had to get out quick. Looking at how things developed... well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Point is, I can see why they mighta been angry with him.
"So anyway, down he comes, Lada in tow and they set up a farm out here. Way down south, right up close to the Blood River - so we're talking about a hundred miles from here and pretty much right on the border of the Border Princes. Everything south of that river is just called the Badlands. Goblins, trolls, all sorts of shit live down there. The river is really the thing that keeps them in check. They got the land cheap. I guess they couldn't afford anything better.
"So anyway, as I said, Cornelius was a druid. Oh? I didn't say that. My bad - he was a druid. That's how come he knew the other druids and pissed them off - I think he was buggering around with druidic things he ought not to have touched. And really, the same story here. For a few years, we didn't hear a peep outta them. They came up a few times each season for supplies and they went back to their farm. I mean, they looked like shit, but that's what happens when you live out in the middle of nowhere for years. Its not like you look any better.
"But a few years in, suddenly things are happening. Cornelius seems to have struck it lucky with the land, 'cos its the most fertile land in the whole area - or was it? He had bred or grown or made up or whatever-the-hell-it-is that-farmers-do-to-get-new-plants a new type of grape, which he called the Rosinci grape. But the thing is, it just grew wherever he dropped the seeds. He was producing this stuff way out of season - it just didn't make any sense. After a while, we all just got to thinking he must be doing magic. Probably druid magic - they can manage weather and things, I believe. Initially, we weren't too worried, cos he was so far out in the styx that he wasn't going to challenge the farm trade up here. And - if your operation gets too big, well, Prince Pandar will slap a trade tax on you, faster than you can say the word 'tax'.
"What? What do you mean 'can he do that?' Of course he can. This is the Border Princes, son. You got an army big enough you can do whatever you like.
"Anyway, back to Cornelius. He's getting trade barges and some of the bigger ships right down the black gulf to the Blood River. That's a big risk for anyone on that straight, 'cos of piracy and whatnot from the south. But barges were going there. Turns out, the wine he was making with these grapes was second to none. By the time the stuff got to the likes of Couronne and Altdorf, it was shifting at fifty gold pieces a bottle! Fifty gold pieces! Who pays that kinda money for one bottle of wine, right?
"So anyway, this creates a huge problem for Cornelius. Think about it: you got a farm out in the middle of nowhere. You've got a lotta land, all these grapes and whatnot - what's that? Yeah, he grew other stuff as well, sure. Anyway, so he's got all this land and he's hundreds of miles from anywhere. Nothing but bandits and chaos to the south. How does he protect himself? What about labour? Who's working this farm? Remember, they're hundreds of miles from anywhere. And if the labourers get wind of the money he's making? Surely they'd want a cut, right?
"So, he's got problems, ol' Cornelius. Security issues, labour issues and probably soon tax issues too. What do you reckon he does? You don't know? Let me tell you: he sets up a trading post and he starts to set up a town. But who's he trading with?"
You lean back as the old man jabs his finger at you.
"Goblins, son. Goblins. The son-of-a-bitch organised cross river trades with the little buggers - and who'd've thunk it - he actually seems to have won them over. Pretty soon the little shits are hooked on trade crap from the north. They're trading him whatever they've pirated or stolen for tailored trousers, Estalian tobacco and sixty piece cutlery sets. See, what he'd worked out that I think none of us ever got, is that goblins are shit scared of fighting. They're shit scared of everything. If you just give them the opportunity, why wouldn't they want to make an honest living like the rest of us?"
The old man cackles to himself as he waves his hand to the bar and the rest of its occupants. Broken noses. Stitches. Naked blades. Wanted posters. Dice. Prostitutes. The only honesty here is that they're not trying to hide. This is the Border Princes.
"Okay, so its not quite as simple as that - the outcasts of the orcs and goblins did the trading. The more organised tribes, well...they were still iffy about the whole thing. They say they didn't trade, but the point is, the trading post grew and grew. This little town, which ended up being dubbed 'Corntown' cos the thick-as-pigshit goblins couldn't pronounce Cornelius' name, just grew and grew. Not thousands of inhabitants, but still - hundreds. All sorts of lowlifes - goblins, orcs, those freaky yeller gits from the east over the mountains. And some of us - others like Cornelius trying to make a new life for themselves.
"But now the trading post means that there are others that need Cornelius' trade to continue. He sort of becomes the mayor of the town and he's recruiting his labour right there. Some even say he had some trolls doing some of the heavy work on the farm. You're nuts to have goblins work anything within a mile of you, but trolls? Anyway, maybe it was his druid magic.
"So years go by and Cornelius works his farm. By now, he's paying Prince Pandar's taxes, he's paying all these labourers, he's managing Corntown - despite all the work, he's just not making the money. Production issues, unreliable labour - crime in Corntown itself - it was a deadbeat town after all - all of this is bringing him down.
"And poor Cornelius - it might have been different if it weren't for Lada. Man - she was a mean bitch. I've never seen a woman bitch like she did. She was always on his case - telling him her clothes weren't good enough and that other ladies always had better stuff. Going on about how their farming villa wasn't good enough for the wife of a mayor. How come he couldn't get consistent results from the goblins - surely a real man would be able to? You know - that sort of thing. If I was him, I woulda bought me a pistol and shot the cow between the eyes.
"But he just put up with her. Crazy.
"I don't know much about magic, but from what I do know is that it takes a lot of energy to do. Really hits you hard. So Cornelius, once young and fit and healthy, is now completely wasted and stressed - always under pressure from Corntown and Prince Pandar and his vixen of a wife. Surprise! He can't do his magic like he used to. You get the picture - the farm starts taking the hit as the normal laws of nature set in.
"What's that? Oh yeah. Gromeo. That's what you were asking about, wasn't it? Ah look, my cup is empty. Yeah, rum'll do nicely, thanks.
"So Gromeo was this jolly-fat-bugger-of-a-goblin, right? I'm talking about a five foot girth, right? No jokes. He was huge. The bloody creature could barely move.
"But let me tell you - funny as shit, man. I have never met, nor will I ever meet, such a thoroughly pleasant goblin. Don't get me wrong - goblins are goblins and they're a repulsive little species, but Gromeo - he had something special. He had a real deep voice - good for singing. He was a good talker too - knew a few different languages. And what a joker! Man, he would sometimes crack this whole bar right up with some of his one liners.
"And this is the weird thing, right - ladies loved him. Loved him! I've never seen a human get that much tail, let alone a goblin. And a fat bugger like him - I don't even know how he did it. But yeah - a total ladies man. Er...goblin. And he humped anything that walked. Apparently, by the time he crossed the Blood River into Corntown, he was on the run from three separate goblin tribes - 'cos he had done every single female in all three tribes!
"Yeah! I know! Goblin women! You ever seen one? Man alive - thicker'n a pig with a face and smell to match. But anyway, that's how he got his kicks.
"Anyway, so he arrives in Corntown. Somehow, he hooks up with Cornelius and gets a job as the foreman, running the work crews. All of a sudden, everything is better. The goblins, the trolls - the other lowlifes and arse-holes that all ended up working for Cornelius, they're towing the line. As I heard it, he was mean, but fair. He'd kill anyone who stepped outta line, but he was always able to get them to deliver the goods without too much fighting. I don't know what the deal was, but I'm pretty sure he was taking a cut of Cornelius' profits. Had to have been. When I met him, he'd just bought him one of those Fjord GTO imports from way up north.
"I mean, this chariot - full oak interior, leather arm rests, cup holders, sixty inch wheels - the whole shebang. She was a beaut! Had it custom made to be pulled by those wolves the goblins love so much. So you can see he was making some money - no one down here had a ride like that.
"Anyway, things go well for a while, but it seems that Cornelius didn't pray to the right gods. Or something. Actually, I don't think he was religious? Oh? Druidism is a religion? I didn't know that - thanks for enlightening me. Well anyway, the point is that the gods had not smiled on Cornelius, despite young Gromeo sorting all the shit out. About a year after Gromeo was taken on, a massive disease sweeps through Corntown. Goblins, orcs, humans - all of 'em dying like flies. Even the big buggers like the ogres. And not just Corntown - this was happening south of Blood River too - those goblin tribes I mentioned? All of 'em - wiped out.
"Cornelius and Gromeo do the best they can with what's left, but they just can't stem the damn plague.
"In desperation, Cornelius sends Gromeo deep into the Badlands. 'Just get any workers who will come' seemed to be the general instruction. So off Gromeo goes, trying to recruit some new workers and revive Corntown.
"Now, whilst all that's going on, Lada - Cornelius' wife, you remember - was also trying to work out how to solve the problem. From what I understand, Cornelius had taught her some druid magic way back when his started to fail. I don't know that it made any difference, but she started to look at other magic. Now Corntown was on the Old Silk Road - that's how most of the goods from the east get up north - once they've paid transit taxes, of course.
"It sometimes happened that magicians from the east would come by there. This is where things get a little hazy now, but as I understand it, Lada managed to convince one of them to teach she and Cornelius some other magic. Bad magic. Not the sort of thing anyone should get involved in.
"What happened next? Well, the two of them caved in to all kinds of weird shit. Crazy rituals, howling at the moon, probably drinking their bathwater - I mean, full on witchcraft. I think Cornelius' mind had just snapped under the pressure. Lada - she was always just batshit crazy anyway.
"But - say what you want, suddenly, the farm was fine again. One year on from the plague, its as if nothing happened. They say that Cornelius and Lada found a cure for the disease. No one has been down to Corntown to find out - we don't need no plague up here. But - we're seeing boats almost every week head on up the peninsula to Blood River. They still come in light and they leave heavy - full to the brim with this rosinci wine.
"Back to Gromeo. One day, he gets back. He's got a few goblins and some more trolls. Its a small work force, but he's manage to drag them over hundreds of miles of barren Badlands, so it shouldn't be a problem to get 'em working the farm. But suddenly, the disease is cured and the farm is fine. Cornelius meets Gromeo and tells him that they've cured the disease. They don't need the goblins anymore. He can stay, but the rest of them can bloody well piss off. Now this is a problem for Gromeo, because as I understand it, these goblins pretty much considered him their chief. They've fought their way through all manner of crap to get up here and they're expecting a nice cushy day job with regular food and pay. To find out they're no longer needed? Well, they kicked off something awful, as you'd only expect from goblins.
"Well anyway, the now healthy citizens of Corntown eject Gromeo and his goblins from the farm. I know that, cos he told me as he passed through here. He was spitting blood, let me tell you - I've never seen him so angry.
"I asked him what he was going to do - he told me he knew some people up in the mountains. He said something funny, then - he said he was going there to 'take some advice'. He didn't seem like the advice kinda goblin, so that surprised me, but still, that's what he was doing.
"So that must have been last season, now. I haven't seen him come back this way, but I'm pretty sure he will be back. If I know Gromeo, he's got plans for Cornelius and Corntown...
Andre mentioned a narrative campaign in his introduction when he joined the blog.
So that's one side of the story. Also, as you may have heard - there is some or other event happening in Nottingham sometime or other. Something to do with oldhammer. I thought I would try and attend.
Anyway, Orlygg has proposed some Realms of Chaos activity. Some people are interested in that. I'm sort of interested too. So, Andre and I had a chat, and it turns out, because we're all adults and we can discuss things - that we can link our campaign to the production of characters for this Realms of Chaos activity. This has long been in the planning, because I've mentioned Gromeo before - as some of his retinue has already been explored. We're just lucky that there's some event coming up that we can use this warband at.
I've already defined young Gromeo, but I'll detail his coming into existence in another post later.
It wasn't hard to repurpose my custom Grom to be Gromeo (see what I did there?). All I did was change the name.
|Gromeo out for a ride in his Fjord GTO|
By way of warning, though, you would be wise to anticipate at least the next post to not be turn seven of The Bridge over the River Chai.