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Author Topic: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao  (Read 2167 times)

Grey

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Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« on: 28 April 2015, 06:41:56 »
Welcome to the first in the four part Capellan Chancellor series, where I'll be taking a look at the four most recent Chancellors, who have been covered in fiction and held prominence within the setting in recent years.

Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
Who: Maximilian Liao
   Aka: The Diablo
What: Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation
When: 2964 – 21 April, 3036
Weapon of Choice: Politics
         Manipulation

In a fictional setting that has been running as long as Battletech there is a definite evolution, not simply of game tactics, but also of characters. Not simply in terms of development but also in terms of legacy, many a unit description describes regiments as having a character and requiring a commander that can continue that character, the same is somewhat true of nations and factions.

As the first Chancellor seen in fiction Maximilian Liao sets the tone for all who follow him, both chronologically in the setting as chronologically as written characters, which means he influences the characteristics of his predecessors as much as his successors.

And the tone set is one that emphasises traits such as a scheming nature, ruthless cunning, grand ambition and a hefty dose of crazy.

Part of this is the demands of the setting, a war game, which requires antagonism and impetus for the conflict. The personal ambitions of the respective faction leaders are enough to start with but the fiction requires a deeper motivation, and a means if differentiating the leaders. No less ruthless or cunning than his neighbours Max is somewhat more ambitious considering the state of his nation, and is differentiated by the crazy which increased as fortune turns against him and inadvertently became a defining trait.

Thus the majority of Capellan Chancellors are best described as preferring plots over direct combat, in contrast to the other four states, all of which have a good many leaders fall in combat as they led from the front. It has been a rare Chancellor who has risked their life in such a manner.

A good number of Chancellors have also been described as mentally unstable, and even more have been dictatorial in their approach to leadership.

Neither of these are rare in the Great Houses but only for the Capellans are they considered to be innate characteristics of the House and nation, this is a result of Max Liao being our first window into the position.

The weapons of choice list at the beginning of this article is a little incomplete, Max once headed the Red Lances and therefore at the least has some sort of military training, most likely as a MechWarrior, though we have no confirmation of what, if he were one, piloted.

It is rather irrelevant though, whatever military branch he belonged to that was not his weapon. Plots, personal manipulation, these are his weapons, more so than the organisations and individuals that will carry these things out such as the Maskirovka, which was as much a target of manipulation as the Mariks or Davions.

How one treats one’s subordinates and necessary organisations says quite a bit about a character, and quite aside from manipulative it shows a paranoid streak, which to be honest is less a form of crazy than it is a survival instinct in the Great Houses, however combined they are the first stroke in painting Max Liao as a crazy man.

Plot wise it’s a useful, if somewhat overused trait, to have the villain be crazy, it permits a lot of twists and turns that wouldn’t happen under an otherwise right thinking individual.

In this instance it is doubly useful as a pre-exiting condition that is exacerbated by the losses of the Fourth Succession War ground him down and we can see the increasingly desperate and unbalanced reactions from the man make him easily manipulated by Hanse Davion and his secret agents within Max’s own intelligence agency. This ultimately causes him to launch the raid that allows Hanse to deliver a coup de grace.

And even then Max Liao’s reaction is not military, not in the strictest sense, he still plots, manipulates, the hopes he clings to are not those of successful units but for schemes to come to fruition, for political winds to turn against his foes.

Which leads us to . . .

The other tone Max sets is that political characters are villainous characters. While Hanse and Katrina are equally political and manipulative Maximilian uses these exclusively as his tools, whereas the other two are more ‘honourable’, utilising warfare as equally as things like politics, personal and economic manipulation.

So calling him an evil dastard is easy, is it fair?

He is the antagonist of a trilogy, and sets up far more plots against neighbouring realms than he is the subject of (those just happen to be far more successful), so it is easy to call him a villain.

However it is his characterisation that makes him so, from the moment we see him at the end of ‘Warrior: Coupe’ he pretty much screams card carrying villain of the Bondian style. Every picture we see of him, even in the relatively recent ‘Historical: Brush Wars’ one could easily imagine him with a cat on his lap if the image was just large enough to let us see.

He doesn’t care about his people, he doesn’t even seem to care much about his family and more (outwardly) loyal underlings, he only seems to care about his own ambitions to become First Lord.

This taints what good he has done, which was a reversal of fortunes for the Capellan Confederation. Historically he is noted for bringing the nation back from the brink and making it a serious competitor on the international stage.

Two problems: first off this is historical, not seen, unlike the massive losses he presided over which do stick in the mind. Secondly it’s a function of the setting. He is the first Capellan Chancellor we see because all the faction leaders are the first one we see, that’s when the timeline of the game started, and a small, withered, useless nation isn’t much of a credible faction. One that was small and withered but on the rebound is, even if it is a long stretch away from fulfilling its leader’s grand dreams.

Was that First Lord ambition ever realistic? His ambition seemed to be largely based on being preferable to the other four Successor Lords to any two or three of the others.

Technically his grandson Sun-Tzu proved the concept of the compromise candidate quite well, but that was an entirely different game of politics. Ultimately Max would have to have relied upon each Successor Lord placing him ahead of anyone they actively hated (mostly Takashi or Hanse), combined with apathy towards achieving that station themselves (Katrina who just wanted peace and nominally broken Janos) while still allowing him enough leeway to have actual clout with the position.

Something of a tall order, but ambitions like this don’t bend to reality and the painful truth is it’s as good a plan as simply trying to stomp over the rest of the Inner Sphere which seems to have been the collective plan of the Successor Lords for two centuries.

The trouble is Max is delusional when we first see him in writing, so all of his plans come across as tainted by this.

Let’s cast a critical eye towards his schemes. Provoking/fuelling the Marik Civil War, the benefits would have been either an ally along one border, or a vassal along one border, or a distracted foe along one border for a few years, or border with a nation state so tied up in its internal arguments as to be a neutral border, at the cost of losing the direct services of Wolf’s Dragoons a few years early. He attempts the same thing with the same goals a few years later with Michael Hasek-Davion.

Operation: Doppelganger was going to be the complete subversion of a head of state at the cost of one heavily brainwashed individual, the benefits being largely the same as above but with more emphasis on creating a vassal state.

These are gross oversimplifications, but they show a trend, that Max believed in following only the all win scenario.

Nowhere is there mention or consideration of negative consequences, Marik retaliation, Hanse Davion’s reaction, these aren’t discussed as factors.

True he had an accurate read of Janos Marik as a tired old man too tied up in the internal political squabbles of his realm to do much in terms of retaliation, but any other character with plots and schemes as their hat would have at least considered the consequences, judged them and possibly made contingency plans.

Max’s plots don’t really have a central goal instead they list all the possible beneficial outcomes. In other words they all try to revolve around winning something, however marginal, from any given situation.

To be blunt these are all low risk, mixed gain ploys. They make sense for the smallest, poorest resourced, least well-armed of the Successor States, particularly from a defensive standpoint. Unfortunately these ploys are not going to be rewarded by the setting, which by its nature encourages if not requires high risk, high reward actions.

They’re exciting, daring, excuse a lot of plots and combat, and however sensible Max’s actions may be they make him look like a sneak by comparison.

It’s poor for a leader, but great for someone you want to consider a scheming villain, it means they never have to worry about looking good, they won’t stop, and more importantly it offers a writer multiple degrees of success, meaning a massive plot can be foiled but the villain has just enough success to justified their continued plotting.

Nonetheless Maximilian Liao is a fully realised character. He has plans (advance Maximilian), dreams (Maximilian victorious) and goals (all hail Maximilian) and takes steps to achieve these, adding colour and flair to the setting, as well as capturing player attention, holding it well enough to cement his place as a founding character, if not a terribly good Chancellor, for the Confederation at least.

Next week: Romano Liao.

Frabby

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #1 on: 28 April 2015, 12:39:21 »
Next week: Romano Liao.
;D  That's an excellent closing sentence for an article about Mad Max! Looking forward to it.

I think it's noteworthy that Max Liao's character wasn't designed as much as it just happened.
He was initially simply characterized as a Successor Lord, with the implication that being a scheming baby-eating bastard was par for the course. This is a wargame after all, and where we today have several House Books, a half-page sidebar was all there was in the early Battledroids and BattleTech 2nd Ed. editions. It described the Capellan Confederation/House Liao as the smallest successor state, weakened from a string of military defeats, having lost much territory and relying more on subterfuge than outright military might.

The first BT novel ever to be written (though it was only the second to be published) was Ardath Mayhar's The Sword and the Dagger. Mayhar characterized Max as a James-Bond-style villain with an overblown ego and shoot-the-messenger attitude, but not so much as outright crazy. He was juxtaposed against white hat Hanse Davion and he was written to fail, so with the rudimentary background on the Capellan Confederation from the rulebook, which was all there was back then, Max Liao's characterisation in that book isn't particularly off-kilter. He's a paranoid megalomaniac warleader all right, but then again he's a successor lord and seriously trying to become the new First Lord of a reforged Star League. And by this time, only his antagonist Hanse Davion had been fleshed out as a character among his fellow successor lords.

The early sourcebooks and novels largely ignored House Liao; in the third GDL book the CapCon is on the losing side of a Marik offensive.

It was only Stackpole's Warrior Trilogy that the CapCon and House Liao came back into the limelight. In the first book (En Garde) we see the scheming, underhanded character of House Liao on Solaris VII, but almost nothing of Max Liao himself. He only really gets screen time starting with book 2 (Riposte). And it is here where Stackpole, relying heavily on Ardath Mayhar's groundwork, plays up the megalomania to clinical insanity levels. Mayhar, based on the initial writeup (by one Patrick Larkin I gather), sort of pointed Stackpole in the direction but it's really Stackpole's work making the character into a one-dimensional mad villain. Max Liao, for all the cunning attributed to him, never quite lost that comic book villain stamp Stackpole imprinted on him.

Interesting tidbit: In the back of the FASA edition of Riposte, Stackpole writes that he based Max Liao's character on real-life politician Evan Mecham.

As for 'Mech piloting, I seem to recall Max Liao was somehow associated with the Thunderbolt but I can't for the life of me cite a reference for this so it may be wrong.
Apocryphally, according to the Stardrive magazine, he reportedly maintained an ultralight Slowpoke named the Humble Warlord as his secondary 'Mech.
« Last Edit: 28 April 2015, 12:43:15 by Frabby »
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False Son

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #2 on: 28 April 2015, 13:02:53 »
To be blunt these are all low risk, mixed gain ploys. They make sense for the smallest, poorest resourced, least well-armed of the Successor States, particularly from a defensive standpoint. Unfortunately these ploys are not going to be rewarded by the setting, which by its nature encourages if not requires high risk, high reward actions.

The setting is less about risk and reward and more about the vilification of politics against military pragmatism.  Max Liao using politics and subterfuge comes partially out of the reality that the Confederation does not have the resources to entertain notions of military adventurism.  Elastic Defense was made possible because the Confederation had been reduced to a state where the territorial footprint was small enough for troops to move from one border into reinforcing positions on the other border in short time.  Max should have been commended for his imagination in this kind of environment, instead of vilified as a distant schemer without the gumption to do some good old fashioned conquest.

Personal opinion, though.

Quote
They’re exciting, daring, excuse a lot of plots and combat, and however sensible Max’s actions may be they make him look like a sneak by comparison.

This is something that is not unique to Max Liao.  It is a trend that connects Amaris with Kerensky, Max with Hanse, Katherine with Victor.  Time and again, political animals are too weak willed to force their will on the Inner Sphere with strength of arms.  The setting loves Napoleonic figures, adept in politics because they are first and foremost adept at war.  Those who are politicians are profoundly bad at war, and will eventually see their political machinations undone by their militarily superior neighbors.

Quote
Next week: Romano Liao.

Oh, boy.  Symbolically important.  Unfortunately depicted.
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #3 on: 28 April 2015, 13:42:39 »
All very good points, False Son, Max was just the first in the fiction, codified what was in the background material and led the way for future villains. It's a theme of the setting, or perhaps just a form of shorthand, that anything not 'military' or 'warrior' is villainous or untrustworthy, even if it's more pragmatic, preserves resources or just plain makes sense.

I think it's a function of the setting, since it is a wargame. After all, if gains can regularly be made without sending in big stompy machines, say by negotiation or subterfuge, then the setting doesn't support the adventure we're supposed to be having on the table top.

Kidd

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #4 on: 28 April 2015, 21:41:56 »
On thr other hand, a setting which emphasises raw firepower would benefit I think from a character who is all about playing one side against another, without the usual attendant megalomaniac-dictator trope. Which is why I find the most interesting person in the Palmyra debacle to be Sterling McKenna.

Having come late into the fiction i always saw Max Liao as providing the impetus to Sun-Tzu's motivations, a reminder of fallen grace, the drive for vengeance and the consequences of failure all in one.

abou

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #5 on: 29 April 2015, 10:44:27 »
In some regards, the Max of the sourcebooks is wildly different from the Max in the novels. That's a bit unfortunate, to say the least. I am not the biggest fan of Stackpole as a writer, but as I mellow with age, I also realize that Stackpole is not a Martin or JK Rowling. He doesn't have people buying his books by word of mouth or review or licensing: he literally has to keep putting words on paper to get his paycheck. Ergo, time is a factor in everything.

Had Stackpole the luxury, he could have created a more nuanced Max. Because of that, I really would enjoy seeing stories written about a younger Max.

Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #6 on: 29 April 2015, 18:16:54 »
If you think the sourcebook Max is different from the novel Max you should take a look at Romano. Reading that she plays the oboe is almost surreal.

Another factor to keep in mind is that the writers are also writing to the demands of the larger plot, which demands certain outcomes. In other words they have one foot nailed to the floor whenever they're writing a novel, using the tools they have (the characters) to achieve these outcomes.

Hotwire

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #7 on: 29 April 2015, 21:31:43 »
Sian,
Sian Commonality, Capellan Confederation
July 13, 3025

With a scream, Maximillian Liao flailed out of bed, hitting the floor in a tangle of sweat-soaked, silk sheets. "Noooo! ...No! Please no!"

Servants rushed into the Chancellor's chambers, assisting the disoriented Supreme Father of Celestial Wisdom to his feet, to be rewarded with slaps and curses. "Get your hands off me! Get off! I'm fine. It was just a dream... a terrible, horrible dream..."

Slowly, the servants retreated from their mad master, hoping that he hadn't taken any personal notice of them. His ornate pajamas in disarray and his hair wild, Maximillian walked over to the window that looked out upon the palace grounds. He stabbed a button on the frame molding and the panoramic view changed to that of a middle-aged, red haired and bearded military man.

Colonel Pavel Ridzik, Senior Military Coordinator of Capellan Armed Forces, startled momentarily by the Chancellor's appearance on his screen, stared at his overlord for several seconds before blurting, "My Lord...? To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?"

"Shut up Ridzik! I had a dream... No! A warning! Cancel Operation Doppelganger immediately! Liquidate all of it's assets. I've seen the consequences!"
3025 Forever!

Avitue

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #8 on: 30 April 2015, 02:00:11 »
Considering that both Tormano and Candace were known to pilot Vindicators, it's a good chance that Max might have piloted one too.

That, or a Striker.

Wrangler

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #9 on: 04 May 2015, 14:57:29 »
Reading about Max's the sourcebook, i get vibe was more a political animal if anything else. These are my opinions so please forgive me if i indulge little in describing things.

He has coupe, and engineers method make his father look like weak fool.  He himself coming on top, while not necessary for good of everyone.  Using creative methods to solve problems were one of Max's strong points from reading various sources over the years.  The Warrior trilogy was like a movie in sense way he comes out, but that who he is most of us.   

The old film, Big Trouble in Little China's wizard/emperor character always to me came through how Max was at least physically.  He was using ways get around problems to get to his goals, while still thinking he was a god of his nation.  He was hard on his men, hard on his children not seeing his goals and how things should be done. Romano went nuts because of some these things, being taught scheme to achieve his goals.  However, say what you will about him, he was highly intelligent, but not realistic and not a good human being.

Thanks for the write up, Gray
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SteelRaven

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #10 on: 06 May 2015, 00:49:43 »
Has anyone brought up the short from Shrapnel, Think like a Liao by Susan Putney?

Spoil Alert:
Tormanoe Liao is almost killed by a double that his father ordered to replace him.
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A. Lurker

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #11 on: 10 May 2015, 17:32:04 »
My personal pet theory -- not particularly backed up by any special information or insights, just something that makes sense to me at times -- is that Maximilian's madness actually did have an organic cause. (It is kind of telling that his daughter Romano and her children in turn seem to have been similarly afflicted, with even otherwise brilliant Sun-Tzu being plagued by hallucinations at times; to me, that suggests at least the possibility that we could be looking at a genuine inheritable condition here.)

That premise allows some degree of reconciliation between the early Maximilian Liao, the at least grudgingly respectable intelligent political mastermind, and the late Yellow Peril-style villain one who pretty clearly slips more and more into senility as the Warrior trilogy plays itself out easily enough. It also adds an unexpectedly tragic side to what would otherwise be a fairly one-dimensional villain; I'll freely admit that "Mad Max" as somebody who could potentially have achieved so much more if he hadn't fallen victim to his own body's and brain's betrayal appeals to my personal sense of drama quite a bit.

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #12 on: 10 May 2015, 18:59:03 »
My personal pet theory -- not particularly backed up by any special information or insights, just something that makes sense to me at times -- is that Maximilian's madness actually did have an organic cause. (It is kind of telling that his daughter Romano and her children in turn seem to have been similarly afflicted, with even otherwise brilliant Sun-Tzu being plagued by hallucinations at times; to me, that suggests at least the possibility that we could be looking at a genuine inheritable condition here.)

That premise allows some degree of reconciliation between the early Maximilian Liao, the at least grudgingly respectable intelligent political mastermind, and the late Yellow Peril-style villain one who pretty clearly slips more and more into senility as the Warrior trilogy plays itself out easily enough. It also adds an unexpectedly tragic side to what would otherwise be a fairly one-dimensional villain; I'll freely admit that "Mad Max" as somebody who could potentially have achieved so much more if he hadn't fallen victim to his own body's and brain's betrayal appeals to my personal sense of drama quite a bit.
Safe to say your right and that Max wasn't always 'Mad Max'
There are historical figures who took the same nose dive in the logical department due to some mental illness (won't list any due to possible grey area in the forum rules) Could have been a number of things that progressed and horribly damage to Max's mind if left unchecked... and not too many would want to diagnose their dear leader with something that causes mentally degeneration if he is already in a stressful state that would call for any normal person to be paranoid about those around him.   

   
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sillybrit

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Maximilian Liao
« Reply #13 on: 10 May 2015, 21:21:24 »
Bear in mind that Max was described in the original Liao House book as a borderline megalomaniac and suffering from manic-depression, which was normally controlled but could manifest from time to time. He was also described as heartless and with no real love for anybody else, even his own family and friends, and would willingly sacrifice anybody and anything to gain more power, so he arguably has some psychopathic tendancies too.

I can see how Stackpole could have taken the personality described in the House book to produce the villain of the Warrior trilogy. The novels were perhaps more widely read than the House books, which is probably why the Mad Max persona is attributed to Stackpole, but going by the publication timeline he's not the source, just the loudest messenger.

I'd suggest that the only time Max wasn't Mad Max would be the 3 or so years between his portrayal in BattleDroids - which was reinforced in 1ed MW RPG - and the publication of Housebook Liao. For the majority of the game's history, it's been the latter that's been dominant.

 

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