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Author Topic: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell  (Read 2055 times)

Grey

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Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« on: 02 October 2015, 13:45:55 »
Quick word of warning, this one comes across as rather harsh towards the subject, but it's something of an unavoidable consequence, or at least that's what I hit across while writing, so I'm quite open to opposing opinions on that front.

Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
Who: Morgan Kell
What: Colonel, 10th Skye Rangers
Colonel, Kell Hounds Mercenary Regiment
   Colonel, Kell Hounds Mercenary Brigade
Member Order of the Tamar Tigers
Knight Defender of the Draconis March
Regimental Holder of St George
   Baron von Arc Royal
   Grand Duke Arc Royal
   Margrave of the Arc Royal Theatre
When: 2986 - 3083
Weapon of Choice: 2R Archer

In a fictional setting like Battletech the status of being a legend can come about through many means. Great feats, longevity, terrifying skills, leadership in trying times, any one of these would be enough to quality a character the status of legendary. Morgan Kell encompasses all of the above.

Attempting to summarise Morgan’s history is a feat in and of itself, suffice to say out of nowhere he built up a legendary mercenary unit with only a few years of regular military service and a massive amount of money. Not just any mercenary unit, not even just an elite mercenary unit, but an elite mercenary unit of high ethical standards.

In a setting where mercenaries struggle to rise above the reputation of money chasing bandits, with many living down to this expectation, this sets the Kell Hounds out as “good guys”, a hero unit really, and that is how they are presented in their very own sourcebook.

This follows through with their commander, for units are often characterised by their leader and founder, which is more Morgan than Patrick. Though the latter certainly has his hand in, the breakdown of the unit to a battalion as Morgan enters a monastery demonstrates the nature of his priority in the unit’s leadership structure.

And then there’s that stint in a monastery. Going there after a significant battle, voluntarily reducing his unit, all things that are, in the novels and source materials, presented as highly confusing to those involved as Morgan never explained his actions until after Patrick’s death.

It’s a source of great personal drama, though realistically it has a minimal impact, Morgan slips back into command in large part because there is no one else and also because he’s freakin’ Morgan Kell.

Seriously.

Let’s digress for a moment. His ‘Mech of choice is actually a fairly good one for a commander. The Archer is still considered the meter stick for missile boat designs, and is the classic fire support unit since it throws out forty missiles at long range. What’s more it mounts very heavy armour for the time period.

More importantly it discourages getting in close, and while those forty missiles are potent the spread nature of the subsequent damage combined with the range limitations discourage getting in close. This is ideal since you really don’t want your commander charging into the middle of things, you want him standing  back, throwing fire when and where necessary, but ultimately far back enough that he can concentrate on the big picture.

How does Morgan survive a duel against a Warhammer in this thing?

Plot. And I don’t just mean author fiat, Morgan wins against Yorinaga not by outshooting or outfighting him, or even with some fancy Phantom ‘Mech ability on Phantom ‘Mech ability interplay, but rather by out honouring him.

It’s a curious thing because it relies heavily on samurai honour, a lump of metaphysics and, well, I have some trouble following it but it boils down to “You can kill me but you can’t defeat me therefore you have lost.”

Hence Yorinaga commits seppuku, Patrick is avenged and Morgan is aggrieved for whole new reasons.

Why? Morgan Kell is, in theory, a complex individual, I say in theory because it is difficult to say from an outside perspective, which is all we have to go on, and it can be a challenge to differentiate complex from unnecessarily convoluted, a distinct risk in the Warrior Trilogy where complex and convoluted don’t just walk hand in hand, they cavort through a field of wildflowers together.

Suffice to say it is more that Morgan is incensed that a human life, a talented MechWarrior, even one that killed his brother, dies for no reason other than some cultural dictate. His sense of honour, justice and personal ethics are offended by the nation that requires this act of one of its greatest warriors, a caste he feels deserves great respect.

There is a deliberate effort to characterise him as complicated, there’s his service history, the brief adventure with cousin Katrina Steiner in the Periphery, his time in a monastery, the reason for his entering the monastery. Sadly none of these are unique in and of themselves, or lumped together. Mysterious past, strange motivations, religious or spiritual pursuits, these are short hand for interesting characters and are paradoxically somewhat boring due to common use.

This is why Morgan has never been a main character, he has all these attributes making him an interesting character that are so common he’s at risk of not being that interesting. Just as important it is difficult to successfully characterise such an individual without making them boring or diminishing their awesomeness, so instead simply knowing him becomes an interesting trait for other characters.

Phelan is his son and has a starting bonus, Dan Allard falls into his circle of influence and becomes more prominent as he is dragged along with him in the grand sweep of adventure, even Victor, heir to the Federated Commonwealth, can point to him and speak to him as an equal, showing how important Victor is, which considering his status as a Prince is really just another flavour of the same problem, lumping more and more traits on a major character to hammer home how important and impressive he is.

This sounds like a lot of criticism for the character of Morgan Kell, but like so many of the elder characters of Battletech he was first written when the setting was far more pulp sci-fi. In fact Morgan in particular is very pulp sci-fi, having the Phantom ‘Mech ability, something that has never been explained, has no place in the harder military pulp setting and has been not so quietly dropped from the rules except for the occasional sly dusting off when referring to the absolute smallest number of individuals. It has no place in the modern setting, and realistically neither does a character like Morgan Kell. He has become a relic of an earlier form of the fiction.

Not that this stops him from being a legend, it just means he becomes harder and harder to employ within the fiction. The transition means he was side-lined faster than most other characters, age, losing an arm and political responsibilities all conveniently take him from the field as said field starts becoming particularly bloody and ethically challenging for a good many warriors.

Not that any of this stops him from being thick in the plot in ways that occasionally defy reality.

It hurts a little to admit it, mostly because it was raised in such a childish manner (itself a cunning political and manipulative move), but Katrina and Sun-Tzu had a point, Morgan Kell had no place at the Star League conference table. He had no political position beyond planetary, maybe regional title, no official sway, commanded a rogue section of a nation and thus had no official military capacity beyond being a mercenary commander.

He’s there only because he is an important person in the fiction.

Or if you want to look at it from a setting perspective it’s a conference about fighting the Clans and he commands a sizable section of border with said foe, and Victor, always ignoring politics in favour of military reality, needs him along for expertise and support. The childishness that resulted was inevitable, and no, Candace didn’t help by offering him up a world of her own and offering marriage. That’s political farce.

That’s a lot of criticism for one small scene, but considering events that follow it’s quite a portentous event, showing just what the Second Star League is: a group of bickering politicians who can only just barely hang together to face down and destroy a distinct threat. Once that threat was gone the whole thing fell to pieces and then we had the Jihad. Morgan Kell being Morgan Kell made that scene easy.

More realistic was his going to Zaniah and retrieving Peter Steiner-Davion. It was his old refuge and Peter was only going to be dragged out by someone of significant political and martial standing that he personally recognised and respected. A very short list.

It is Morgan’s last direct use in terms of plot, and possibly the best, as it requires nothing special of him, no amazing skills, no ridiculous feats, in fact he comes across as quite mortal, wishing he had a canteen of water as he made a long, dry walk along a hot path.

This is a long way from the Kell Hounds sourcebook where he looked and came across like a swashbuckling hero.

Again, that was a different time, but in that time Morgan served an important purpose, one starting in the Kell Hounds sourcebook, where the unit and the Kells in particular come across as different thinkers, their honourable approach marking them as unusual for the time.

This marks them as someone for changing times, which is where the fiction was at a time. Though the game universe had just started out the setting itself was one of a crossroads.

Morgan Kell marked that.

That the setting evolved beyond his characterisation to diminish his usefulness does not diminish what he is, a founding element of the setting where he embodied the adventure, the excitement, the drama of what Battletech wanted, and turned out, to be. He’s a major part of the early novels and continues to be involved through to the Jihad, he turned up in major scenarios involving three different nations and tangled with, depending on how you count things seven or eight factions.

Having outlandish capabilities, in the cockpit and in hand to hand combat, is just a feature of what he was created to be in the beginning. The setting may move on but unfortunately Morgan’s characteristics have to stay or else the character becomes worse than unrealistic, he becomes unreliable. Retcons can’t be applied to a character like this without disrupting the setting as a whole.

So there we have Morgan Kell, one of the giants of the setting who, unfortunately, outlasted his usefulness, but left a permanent impression on the setting, and even arguably kicked it off for the betterment of all.

Tai Dai Cultist

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #1 on: 02 October 2015, 14:09:03 »
Well, I'd say that Morgan Kell is an avatar of the BTU.  An avatar of the early BTU, perhaps more accurately.. I grant that.

He's THE example of a Noble of the 31st century with his own private army.  He fights for a Successor Lord, albeit in a more mercenary nature than "was normal" for the neo-feudal setting.  Yet that was also an aspect of the Steiner factional character: The LCAF may have its issues, but Good Lyran citizens, best characterized by its class of Warrior Nobles, are renowned fighters and part of a strong mercenary tradition.  There's always been an Italian subtext to the Lyran Commonwealth, and it was closer to the surface earlier on.  The neo-Condottieri tradition is one such example.

Players were meant, early on, to identify with the BTU as such "mercenary captains".  Morgan Kell was an idealized example of what players' characters were assumed to be.  Where Hennet and Seoni are the iconic Sorcerers of the D&D and Pathfinder games, Morgan Kell is the iconic Warrior Duke.

Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #2 on: 03 October 2015, 04:40:35 »
Yes, this is a fairly accurate assessment, particularly from an RPG type point of view.

It would also apply because most protagonists, or main characters, are intended to be reader or player surrogates.

Normally this results in very blank characters - the Master Chief from the Halo game series was designed as such, he grew out of it - the aim being that a reader or player can imagine themselves in the place of the protagonist.

The opposite end of the spectrum is something like Morgan Kell, a character designed to be so exciting and interesting that the reader or player wants to imprint on them.

jklantern

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #3 on: 03 October 2015, 11:45:26 »
Yes, this is a fairly accurate assessment, particularly from an RPG type point of view.

It would also apply because most protagonists, or main characters, are intended to be reader or player surrogates.

Normally this results in very blank characters - the Master Chief from the Halo game series was designed as such, he grew out of it - the aim being that a reader or player can imagine themselves in the place of the protagonist.

The opposite end of the spectrum is something like Morgan Kell, a character designed to be so exciting and interesting that the reader or player wants to imprint on them.

I remember when I was a kid, Morgan Kell WAS basically the character I wanted to be, Battletechwise.  He was the biggest, baddest dude on the block for many reasons.

Now I prefer characters like Uncle Chandy.  What does that say about me?   ;D
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #4 on: 03 October 2015, 12:27:09 »
Well, taking that question a little more seriously than anyone should. . .   ;)

It sounds like a maturing of tastes, like I said, Morgan Kell is the swashbuckling, adventurous hero, precisely who you should like as a kid because he's in the thick of things, getting it done.

Uncle Chandy is a different creature, spider in the web, mastermind, intelligent, also in the thick of things but in a much more dangerous and far reaching way. An equally potent individual for different reasons.

If Morgan Kell is the one getting into and out of situations then Uncle Chandy is the one creating or otherwise sending people like him into these situations.  :)

SteelRaven

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #5 on: 03 October 2015, 22:00:54 »
Morgan Kell: one of the few main character in BT to die of old age ;D

 
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #6 on: 03 October 2015, 23:37:15 »
Yes, that's right, I was going to point that out when I started but it kind of, well, got  lost in the mix. :-[

It's a side effect of being sidelined, he's just not in the field any longer, and while there's a great many important personages being nuked, gassed or bombed out of existence there has to be someone who manages to survive that.

Why Morgan? Possibly because of his position relative to the Wolves in Exile and the Lyran government, while little is made of it he is something of a mediator between the two. Though if the relationship is to truly mature then the WiE and Lyrans need to deal with each other without a mediator like Morgan, and while this is an inevitability the there was quite enough turbulence during the Jihad, Steiner space well filled with it's quota of internal upheaval without this added to the plate.

Besides which, given his spiritual awesomeness it doesn't really fit to have him die a violent death. Unlike Jaime Wolf he evolved beyond being a field character, and just as importantly, well, if he's sort of the avatar of the Battletech setting, even the past one, then he's earned a bit of peace.

Just some last minute thoughts there.

SteelRaven

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #7 on: 04 October 2015, 00:00:20 »
Good summation

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Lord greystroke

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #8 on: 04 October 2015, 09:24:41 »
Yes Morgan Kell a product of his time and for many me included it was a better time pulp is fun the present stuff can just be mindless drudgery for a pretence of realism so bring back pulp and characters like Kell just not to many

SteelRaven

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #9 on: 04 October 2015, 13:43:15 »
Morgan Kell still has fans outside of this forum (one MWO relate podcast, a A.C.E. was excited to hear rumors of a new Kell Hounds novel) It's just that many have accumulated a hatred for anything hinting at 'mary sue', which I find strange considering the number of Star Wars and Star Trek fans among the ranks.
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Wrangler

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #10 on: 04 October 2015, 15:55:48 »
It makes me sad that people don't like the "pulp sci-fi".  I liked, i read them multiple times, frankly make more enjoyable than have a stale and boring military conflict with boring politicians with as much depth weasel.  Hard scifi angle can be good, but this Battletech.   Novel wise, the pulp sci-fi characters like Morgan Kell, brought people to the game as well as others.

Yes people's tastes mature, but there people who like this stuff too.  It's almost insults me when people slam it, especially when its well written.  We have different opinions, i'm grateful Grey, you approached subject without letting bias towards way character evolved taint your review.

Morgan Kell was something that aspect the bigger story of the universe needed.  Likeable character who made mistakes, he had plans to make bigger and better skilled regiment by having them spread out and learn from others.  Plan required no one to know what it was all about, yet it did. It did make sense except there was price to pay.  Phantom Skill aspect, was something that brought something unique to character but wasn't dominate thing.   Not like Morgan acted like kid when discovered he could barrel into combat nearly not be touched with glee.  He retreated because he felt he was danger to everyone.  Having little supernatural and unexplained ability/talent isn't necessary bad thing as long its not over done.

I do hope that his early adventures with his cousin Arthur Luvon and Katrina Steiner in Periphery as Red Corsair would have been a good cap on his life.

 
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imperator

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #11 on: 04 October 2015, 23:51:15 »
I still like pulpy stories and a little ninja magic and prophetic seer with my battletech.  Nova Cat and Scorpions lovers also seem to love a little mysticism.  Hard military Scifi is great, but swashbuckling also is really fun( looking at you SG-1 and following series ).  Mary Sues are abundant in the BT universe anyway. They are Mary Sue....until they are not.  Davion accendant, Clans, now Kurita and Liao.  Morgan was the Western Samurai hero with the Elite skills backed by Magic.  And I liked him that way.  I loved the description of him during the fight of Luthien, where not one Clanner could get a lock on him. He took a hill and drew all the fire he could.  Still one of the best parts of the book, right beside Takashi making a line in the sand and going to battle in a Grand Dragon.
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Morgan Kell
« Reply #12 on: 05 October 2015, 05:09:46 »
Thanks, though I'm sure any writer will automatically bring their own prejudices and perspectives into matters, I tend to take the view that characters are written for their era, which doesn't just mean the time frame within the setting, but the frame of reference for the game fiction.

Personally I like some of the looser sci-fi aspects, it's a big stompy robot game after all, but for better or worse it's moved into a more military setting, which I have to say, given elements like the big stompy robots, is a bit jarring.

One thing I am thankful for with Morgan Kell is that he never really felt like the only tool in the toolbox. He wasn't used all over the place to sort out problems or justify solutions. It came close, though, but thankfully another side to having a character so overloaded with awesome is that overuse can overshadow main characters.

 

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