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Author Topic: Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao  (Read 1743 times)


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Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
« on: 05 May 2015, 06:19:14 »
Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
Who: Romano Liao
What: Major, Capellan Reserve Cavalry
Lady of Highspire
Duchess of Liao
Prefectress of Sian
Lady of Tikonov
   Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation
When: 2992 – 3052
Weapon of Choice: Crazy

After the devastating, humiliating losses of the Fourth Succession War the Capellan Confederation needed someone special just to hold them together if not bring them back from the brink. What they got was Romano Liao.

While it does take something to be recognised as supremely crazy in a nation with one past leader blessed with the epigram “Kalvin the Mad” it should be remembered that Romano only seems like the craziest of the bunch because she is the one we have had the most dealings with. The reality is she had breaks on her actions that Kalvin apparently lacked, though these breaks were not always enough.

If dad was a Bondian villain then Romano was a cartoon supervillain. She has literally railed against her enemies, in their presence and out, cursed them, stated she would have her revenge, revelled in petty acts and so on and so on, hissing and snarling all the way.

In most respects this is simply Max Liao’s later reign carried forward, a theme continued.

Gone are the complex plots, the attempt to build schemes where every outcome has an advantage, this is just more of the same sort of behaviour that made scooping up wedding plates as valuable intelligence seem like a good idea, with an exacerbation of just how utterly anyone recognised this was absolutely correct.

Why use this sort of shorthand? The time jump in the setting from the 3020s to 3050s means that copy pasting of character traits makes it easier for the reader or player to jump right in with little concern for what has happened in the interim. Times have changed but less so the people.

For Romano was never really intended as a long term Chancellor in the fiction, she is a placeholder for Sun-Tzu, her actions in as Chancellor limited to looking a fool and pulling off a successful plan that could have been a devastating self-inflicted wound if Candace hadn’t survived and chosen to take things very personally.

This makes Romano sound like a one note character, unfortunately she is.

Looking at her role in fiction she has served two purposes: she is an internal faction antagonist, and she is a near universal spanner in the works for anyone nearby, both of which stem from her delusional nature.

As an internal faction antagonist she is not unique, each faction has at least one, sometimes more, of these so that threats are not simply external, there is an element of collapse from within. Her precise role as such is to be a threat to anyone who could succeed Max, to whom she is supremely loyal, to the point of acting without thinking if it appears to be even marginally advantageous.

It also means that Justin Xiang must battle her petty machinations as much as Hanse Davion’s, at least that’s what we’re supposed to buy into until the reveal, in the end we learn it was just her petty machinations getting in his way.

It does present a problem in Historical: Brush Wars, specifically how to reconcile the Saturday Morning Cartoon Antagonist with the person who managed to pull a nation through what could have easily been the final humiliating nail in the coffin as a Periphery nation and renegade federal province proceed to wale on the remains of the Confederation.

Indeed, this section of the book is all about reconciling Romano’s previously seen dangerous to everyone behaviour with the simple fact that she had managed to hold the nation together for a quarter century.

And while from a practical standpoint her paramour Tseng Shang makes most of the smart decisions regarding the crisis, the larger solution is that she’s the right sort of crazy to keep things going. Whereas anyone sane in that position would see themselves in the position of having the rest of the Confederation become either the Sian March or a couple of extra federal provinces (or the Sian District if you want to get freaky), Romano is delusional enough to not only think that the Capellan Confederation can survive its current situation, but overcome everyone and conquer all of creation.

This sort of survival is not entirely unrealistic, unbending determination can achieve amazing things.

And to be perfectly honest, considering that Romano’s character is nothing but insanity, it’s the only tool the writers have to work with. She can’t suddenly become a military genius, a rallying figure or anything traditionally useful, so they have to work out a scenario where crazy is just what is needed after the fact.

So, a brutal, delusional dictator who cows the population into remaining a functional nation for decades is how it goes.

It is also worth noting that unlike most antagonistic characters she is not a political operator. She is listed as a Major in a ‘Mech regiment but we never see her pilot, or fight, anyone or anything, so this is little more than a side note, as in this setting most heirs to a nation need some sort of military training.

In terms of politics Romano tries, early sourcebooks telling how she tried to build power bases and continued to play people off each other (one more colourful tactic being taking lovers other than Tseng Shang in order to keep him off balance and consequently there being some doubt over Sun Tzu and Kali’s parentage).

Early sourcebooks also tell that she is skilled with the oboe, violin and zero gravity acrobatics. Let that bit of banality roll around your head for a moment and you’ll probably wind up a little more horrified by her.

However nothing really comes of these stabs at politics. No gain, no advantage, no future mishap. These serve only to add to the pervasive paranoid atmosphere of the Capellan Confederation where the head of state expects everyone to try to turn on her at some point so she plays everyone against each other.

Seriously this is one of her smarter moves because coups happen to far more sensible leaders.

This inability to truly play at politics, that’s part of the crazy, she just plain doesn’t care about the consequences or the ways in which to motivate someone with subtle movements of people and resources, she barks an order and expects it to be done and results to follow, subtle is a foreign concept, along with anything not going her way. These are not the hallmarks of a political operator who weighs up costs and benefits of a situation or action.

This inability to conceive of consequences is what ultimately gets her killed. While her son can plainly see the worst on the horizon and her lover certainly cannot be ignorant of the potential retaliation Romano is convinced that killing her sister and brother-in-law as retaliation for a public embarrassment is the next step to the rebirth of the Confederation.

Since it gets her killed she is bizarrely correct.

However since she thought that killing her sister and the husband who betrayed the Confederation through a twisted form of karmic balance we are given a window into her thinking, and just how strongly she is passing it along to her equally if not more so insane daughter Kali, which has consequences far into the future.

Next week: Sun-Tzu Liao


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Re: Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
« Reply #1 on: 05 May 2015, 08:16:45 »
I never liked the character, however she was a important one. 

Though she was never all there to begin with, Stackpole's novels did shed some light on her abilities.  I remember later novel where Sun Tzu was reflecting if not trying to forget his mother who began to haunt him psychology.  He remembers during the Audurien Invasion with MOC, how she pointed out in rare moments ("i'd imagine") she admire the enemy's courage and skill, but pointed out their weaknesses to Sun Tzu.  I do think there was more to her that we've not seen, just legend of her makes her more cartoonistly evil.

Grey right about everything else about her, i just think there stuff we don't know about her and properly never will.  She is the past, Malvina Hazen is now.  :D

Thanks for the write up, Grey!
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Re: Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
« Reply #2 on: 05 May 2015, 16:04:31 »
I don't quite agree with what you wrote; I think you underestimate Romano Liao as a character. In particular, I disagree with the notion that she was a one-dimensional villain character.

Again, like with Max Liao, I think you need to see the meta-evolution of the character, i.e. how her characterisation's evolution evolved. For lack of better wording.

First, we got Housebook Liao where Max Liao is portrayed as holding the CapCon together with sheer cunning where military power is failing him. I.e. he wasn't described as quite the insane despot. And accordingly, his children got a somewhat shallow coverage. Then, Stackpole. Romano and Candance are set against each other in Riposte, sort of the good and bad CapCon, and with their respective consorts (Tsen Shang and Justin Xiang Allard) each couple is the good/bad mirror image of the other. White-hat Davion-affiliated Justin & Candance end up with the St. Ives Compact, Romano ends up punished by being the queen of a smoldering ruin with her father, after getting the ultimate punishment, a gibbering wreck. Basically, Romano was Anti-Candance and nothing more.
Over was the 4th Succession War, done was Stackpole with House Liao. And with the massive upheaval they had, the BattleTech writers had essentially written themselves into a corner.

Thus, time jump and fast-forward to the Clan invasion. Stackpole felt he needed a clean slate, we got the 20 Year Update.
House Liao was still there for some reason, but sort of ignored. I reckon that's why Romano Liao was still in charge, no BT writer could be bothered to write about anything in the CapCon and thus nothing had really changed. Thus it was established that she had held the CapCon together, which - for a lack of attention - was simply attributed to dialing the murderous dictatorship up to eleven. Romano didn't allow the CapCon to die and even stubbornly repulsed the Andurien/Magistracy incursion.
It was only later though that she was portrayed as clinically insane similar to her father, and I seem to recall this was largely retroactively. In her novel appearance in Stackpole's Warrior Trilogy she is spoiled and short-sighted but nevertheless cunning and manipulative. And, being good Candance's evil mirror image, she's got no qualms about lining citizens up on the walls and having the shot until order is restored. Equally retroactively, her uncharacteristically effective running was attributed to poor Tsen Shang (the Confederation's true unsung hero) but you have to give Romano credit for seeing it through and consolidating what she had left.
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Re: Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
« Reply #3 on: 06 May 2015, 04:37:02 »
You're on the money Frabby, but I'm not calling her one dimensional, just one note, she is a limited tool, more of a foil rather than a threat, and that applies before she let the crazy take over.

In saying that there have been attempts to make her deeper, it just gets lost in the midst of lunacy which is her legacy, again something carried forward from her father more than self generated.

One of the shames about the old Housebooks is that a lot of the characterisation was not carried forward into novels. Max's true cunning was truncated in order to make him a villain suitable for a spy story, similarly a lot of what Romano was in Housebook Liao was lost to create a petulant child little more than an extension of her father.

It's worth noting that at the same time a lot of Candace's negative traits were smoothed over even before she hooked up with Justin in order to make her a better romantic interest.

If anything Romano is one of the characters I'd like to see elaborated on in future historicals. I'm not sure how but seeing her before the Fourth Succession War, even in the field during the Third might deepen the character significantly.


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Re: Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
« Reply #4 on: 06 May 2015, 13:30:36 »
Not all Successor lords should be universe altering characters. Romano Liao stopped the bleeding after CapCom's loss in the 4th SW and set the stage for Sun Tzu.
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Re: Character Study of the Week: Romano Liao
« Reply #5 on: 14 May 2015, 19:48:59 »
I think Romano's madness comes from playing second fiddle for too long to the far more populist Parmesan Liao.

I'll show myself the door  :))