Some time ago, I started a thread on Candlekeep called Valuable Villains...and I think it is time I expand that so that anyone outside of the good ol' Keep can also have Valuable Villains to work into their campaigns!
Today, I'll be talking about one of my all time favorite Valuable Villains: "Baron" Krell.
This fellow first appeared in my world within the module "To Find a King" (TSR Module C4 by Bob Blake...thanks Bob!) where he holds something the party needs. I won't drop any spoilers, but I decided I had to have this guy in my campaigns! For a long time this fellow has been behind the scenes in my games, with the party never even encountering him and never suspecting he was there. Let me relate to you his story as he exists in my campaign:
“Lord” Krell is an insidious dealer of intrigue matched by few who know of him; and in truth few do know of Baron Krell as he keeps a very low profile. His wilderness fortress sits astride a rather obscure backwoods trading trail rarely used by reputable merchants; but it is in fact much faster (if somewhat more dangerous) than the commonly used route in the area. This pleases Krell quite well, as it allows him to be close at hand to the intrigues of the land, but in a place that few travel to.
Krell’s story is one of twisting fate, and began over three decades ago when he was ordained a Paladin! He was an intensely loyal and fervent adherent to his faith; even known commonly as “Krell the Kind” for his constant donations to the poor of the land and his steadfast vows of always allowing even the most evil individuals to have the opportunity of forgiveness and redemption. His adventures were many, and he brought many evil individuals to justice; but not at the end of a sword, but in the halls of justice in whatever land he lived within. He was by no means without ability with sword and lance however! Krell was well known in tournaments as a champion jouster and swordsman.
The first turning point in Krell’s life was laid as a trap for him by a wizard he had foiled on several occasions. The wizard, named Varlhaz, was a minor mageling intent on obtaining nobility by forced marriage to a Lady of one family or another; but Krell had on two occasions prevented the wizard from magically compelling such unions on unwitting noble Ladies. Infuriated at Krell’s continued interference, he had acquired a nasty artifact to enact his vengeance upon Krell: a Helm of Opposite Alignment.
Varlhaz arranged that this magical helm be part of a suit of armor to be rewarded as the prize in a minor jousting tournament; and then ensured that Krell would win the tournament by continually using his magic to the bane of Krell’s opponents. As the wizard hoped, Krell won the tournament and was awarded the armor as one part of his purse. Krell later donned the armor, sans helmet, for the victory banquet before returning to his own tent after. Wanting to see how the full suit looked upon him, a Lady-in-Waiting (an unwitting accomplice of Varlhaz) asked Krell to don the helmet as well so that she could view her “Knight in Shining Armor” in all his glory. Needless to say, the result was tragic.
Krell “the Kind” became known soon after as Krell “the Cruel” to the people of the land. He, not understanding what had happened to his own heart, left off from his own people for many years. He became a mercenary adventurer renowned for his cruel leadership and butchery in equal measure. He eventually tired of simple-minded pursuits and, having gained knowledge he hadn’t possessed before, returned to his homeland for revenge. Though he didn’t know who had caused his fall, he had learned that only with such evil magic could he have been so changed. No longer possessing the kind heart he had before…his vengeance was swift and deadly. He knew that only someone who wished him harm directly would have used such magic on him; and his list of enemies was small.
One dark night, Lord Varlhaz, was entertaining guests in his country estate; which he had finally gained at the expense of an insipid young lady who fell for his enchantments. The chamber doors burst open and Krell the Cruel entered with his mercenary warriors in tow. It didn’t take long for all in the hall to fall either in surrender or death before Krell and his warriors; Lord Varlhaz throwing himself at the mercy of his old foe. A short, and brutal, interrogation ensued in which Varlhaz confessed before all present what he had done…and Krell summarily executed the man on the spot. Going one step further, he had his henchman Hedrik marry him to the now widowed former wife of Varlhaz the very next day who was quickly enamored of the powerful warrior.
Krell (already a Lord via his family heritage) did something few would do: he sold off the lot of his wife’s holdings! Turning the quick profit, he then sent his wife to a convent within the week and later had his marriage annulled by the same priest who had married them! With a small treasure in hand, he and his men set about finding a suitable place to make their own…Krell ending up then where his fortified manor sits to this day. He sent for servants from his father’s household which he thought might serve him best and began to build his own estate into one of strength. A fourth son, he wrote off his family after that and simply focused on his own future.
Krell has, for the past decades, become one of the most powerful individuals in the land. His private army numbers several hundred strong and is in a position that would take a King’s army to dislodge. Further, he has agents in many lands; being master of thieves and assassins alike. While no genius, Krell is a natural negotiator and manipulator because of his great charisma and insight into the hearts of others. No longer as chaotic as he was in his youth after losing his Paladinhood; Krell is still a thoroughly evil and reprehensible man. His outwardly strict adherence to the laws of the land keeps him out of trouble with the law and without trouble from other nobles of his homeland; though in other lands he is not so serene in his acceptance of laws which inhibit his desires.
Krell actually ensured his strength via the purchase of a true noble title. He arranged marriage with the daughter of a Baron from a foreign Kingdom; and then promptly had the entire family (save his new wife) assassinated. Feigning no desire to take over the lands of the family, he sold them for a “bargain” to a Count (which was fully part in the assassinations) with the approval of the Baron’s Liege Lord (who’s family Krell theoretically still owes fealty to). Still retaining the title of Baron, Krell brought his new wife to live with him and there she stayed for many years a virtual slave to his will. After “gifting” him with two sons as heirs, she passed on while bearing a third child; and Krell was none the less happy as the fortune he secured via their marriage had long before that time been invested and used to further Krell’s power.
Today, Baron Krell (his given name is Heldrath) is possibly one of the most powerful individuals in the land. He has ensured his protection via immense gifts to the Grandfather of Assassins (such gifts include supply of muscle, coin and information), owns several merchants who must pay him indefinitely due to past loans, extracts heavy tolls to use his road, holds debts from several wizards (and is currently served by the apprentice of one of these wizards), donates heavily to nearly every clerical order in the land (ensuring the good will of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of those faiths), sponsors several bands of adventurers that he uses as subtly manipulated hit-men via intermediary agents, is the true master of several thieves which lead bands of their ilk in numerous towns and cities, and so much more as well.
If Krell wished, he could probably found his own Kingdom; but he prefers to be the power behind the scenes. Those who whisper to others of his true evil are usually the first to vanish from the rooms they rent (as those Inns are often owned secretly by him or his agents frequent them heavily) or are attacked by brigands in their camps at night. Simply put, Baron Heldrath Krell is not a man to be considered as a foe by anyone without serious consideration of what the outcome of such a relationship might be.
The Baron never leaves his home at the behest of anyone; his supposed Liege Lord is well aware of his true power and does not summon him…while the other Lords of his homeland have no true claim to call on him either. His holding exists within a wilderness area which is free from any claim but his own and no noble or royal house has made claim to the land but him. His own family died out with the death of his older brothers (one killed while in battle, and the other by a dragon which burned down the family manor…which many think, but don’t say, was sent by Krell!) and their lands were also sold off by Baron Krell. He is, in essence, a Free Lord with no responsibility to anyone (though loose claim exists that his lands belong to the greater realm).
Baron Heldrath Krell is a master villain plain and simple.
Depending on what campaign world you are playing in, you could use Krell in various ways. I wanted to share with you where I think he would be well at home in various campaign worlds; although, these are not always the places I have used him in the past.
GREYHAWK: In my version of Greyhawk, Krell has set up shop in a very nice spot between the Viscounty of Verbobonc, Free City of Dyvers and the Elf Kingdom of Celene. Right where you see the Star/Circle. (Thanks to Anna Meyer for the awesome base map!)
He ensures his "freedom" by generously paying Salt Tax to both the Viscount of Verbobonc and the Free City of Dyvers...as well as reminding both that he is on amicable terms with the "right people". His title of Baron he holds from the now defunct Shield Lands where his family once lived and in which land he was once known as Krell the Kind...yes, he was once a Knight of Holy Shielding. This is my most often used area for Krell, and he has deep ties with the criminal elements of Verbobonc, Dyvers and Greyhawk City (where he has strong ties with Turin Deathstalker). He never cared at all for the ascension of the Temple of Elemental Evil in the area; but gave them token cooperation until the place was crushed. Krell's evil is not overt...he knows (having been a Paladin once!) what happens to the overtly power-hungry in the world.
FORGOTTEN REALMS: In the Dales...one of my favorite places, Krell has set up his holding in what was once a Dale, but is now shattered.
Krell's connections here are very subtle indeed sitting upon the border of Cormyr as he does. He is a steadfast member of the Cult of the Dragon in my Forgotten Realms. He openly supports the protection of Highmoon, tries to interest merchants to skirt through "his" lands to the Moonsea from Archendale and has proclaimed his lands an ally of Cormyr who he sends gifts to on a regular basis. In the background however, he works with several evil groups beyond even the Cult of the Dragon. He has many interests in Sembia he is heavily invested in and even within the walls of Zhentil Keep, Hillsfar and as far away as Mulmaster, Thentia and Melvaunt. He is originally from Cormyr, but his title of "Baron" is absent in this game where instead he had previously wed a cousin of Lashan of Scardale. He openly opposed Lashan during that war and sent arms and some few soldiers against his In-Law on the side of Highmoon.
BIRTHRIGHT: In the world of Cerilia I placed Krell in the land of Mhoried in the Viscounty of Torien's Watch. That fella over at Halfblogre does some awesome maps!
I just replaced what he calls Caerholm with Krell's Manor and there you go! In this world, Krell is very much at ease in his holding. He pays his due, but is in deep with the Guilds of Cariele and even has dealings with the Goblins of Markazor, the Warlock of the Stonecrowns and several groups in Thurazor as well. He treads lightly, but because he is un-blooded, he isn't seen as a great threat by many. In my Birthright World though, he actually holds the key to recovering the ancient Imperial Line of Anuire!
Well, there are just a trio of places you could have the fellow...he can really be used in any game in any system quite frankly!
Where will YOU use Baron Krell?
EDIT: someone else suggested THIS quick read as a companion to this article, and I agree!
EDIT: someone else suggested THIS quick read as a companion to this article, and I agree!