Art of the Genre: House Davion and the Federated Suns

Art of the Genre: House Davion and the Federated Suns

House Davion, everything you could want from a gaming history text
House Davion, everything you could want from a gaming history text
You hear strange things sometimes in this business, rumblings, rumors, and empty promises, but I have to say one of the best of the past year was a possible FASA reunion for what would have been the company’s 30th Anniversary at GenCon this August.

I mean, can you imagine it? Bradstreet, Deitrick, Laubenstein, Nelson [all three of them], Aulisio, Berry, Marsh, Harris, MacDougall, Holloway, Elmore, and countless others all sitting around a booth with countless Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Star Trek, and Battletech memorabilia and artwork? I mean, even Jordan Weisman would probably show up so someone could write him a check for something.

It would have been a lofty enterprise, and I can’t imagine the line waiting for signatures at that station, or the books that would be held in the hands of the throngs of fans. I run the fan page on Facebook for both Laubenstein and Deitrick, so I know they were into the idea, but unfortunately it fell flat after initial interest in the idea came forward back in September 2011.

Still, thinking about all the incredible artwork these artists put out in their tenure made me grab down one of my absolute favorite FASA supplements, House Davion and the Federated Suns, for the Battletech RPG.

I did a post last year about John Wick and his creation of the ‘Way of’ books for 1st Edition L5R and stated that there was only one other collection of gaming supplements that could match them for incredible written content. Those, of course, were FASA’s House books, and as a historian I still get giddy about reading a thousand and eleven year alternate future.

When it comes to those House books I’m like a kid in a candy store, and although the gaming content is fantastic, the art is truly unmatched. FASA was really the first company I can recall, including the venerable TSR, to begin production of softcover supplements with interior color art. Their ability to make this leap fundamentally changed the landscape of gaming, and seeing not only what their artists were capable of, but also what a gritty space RPG would look like, was the catalyst for a creative bloom in the industry as a whole.

The subject of more than 20 years of debate, and yes Mark, SHE IS ALIVE!
The subject of more than 20 years of debate, and yes Mark, SHE IS ALIVE!
To me, the artwork in this book was a total motivation to play Battletech, not only for the tabletop wargame, but for the lesser employed RPG. I’ve probably got a dozen stories concerning artwork in this book I could share with you all, but I’ll have to whittle it down to just a few. Before I get into all that, however, I really have to know if any of you ever picked up a supplement for a game and had to somehow involve your own campaign in a character, scene, or construct represented in its pages by great art? If so, I’d love to hear your tales.

But back to House Davion

I well remember picking this book up with money I’d stashed away by skipping lunches in High School back in 1988. I played the game with Mark, or course, my stalwart ‘I’ll play anything, anytime’, best friend. When we cracked open the book the first picture I remember jumping out at me was on page 141. It was a Laubenstein, an image which I later named ‘The Tear’, and I was completely blown away by the emotion in it. Mark, being a huge Draconis Combine fan, stated that the picture represented a dead Davion mechwarrior after a battle with House Kurita forces. I refuted the statement, saying the Davion mechwarrior was crying for the loss of life in the epic battle, especially all the Kurita mechs she’d destroyed.

It was great banter, but something we could never settle with any clarity because only Laubenstein himself knew the true meaning of the picture. Still, neither one of us would ever give it up, and it was a constant source of good ribbing from 1988 to 2008. Yep, 20 years we argued about that image, and by 2008 I’d had enough, so I went on a search for Laubenstein, found him, and like any insane fan, asked him about a random imaged that he’d created 22 years before. His answer… ‘I’d say she’s alive because I very rarely draw or paint dead people’.

BAM! Take that Mark!

Mark’s reply, “That is not really Laubenstein you’re quoting, and you can’t prove it is, so she’s still dead’

Yep, this is something that only friends of thirty years can say and get away with it. And so the debate continued, but I was undaunted, and two years later, in 2010, I physically brought Laubenstein to a gaming session where Mark was at the table and had him tell him in person that the Davion pilot was indeed alive and in the aftershock of a cataclysmic battle.

BAM x2! Don’t mess with me when the life of a beautiful imaginary woman is on the line!

Yeah, it’s like that with me and art… I really, really, love it, and if an image captures my imagination then it’s going to stick with me for life.

Deitrick designed EVERY uniform for the game, and even today they are timeless classics
Deitrick designed EVERY uniform for the game, and even today they are timeless classics
The above is only one such tale of Battletech images, and inside House Davion there are a plethora of shots that still fill me with wonder.

How many of you remember the Davion Aerotech Pilot and his Stuka? This is an absolutely classic David Deitrick piece, and I fully based my favorite character in the game on him. My mercenary company, the Arabian Knights, had a wing of Stuka heavy fighters for air support during raids, all because of that image.

Tim Bradstreet can also be found in the supplement with a full page black and white spread on page 74. Bradstreet was helping define his art in those days by taking photographs from movies and inking copies of them placed inside gaming universes. This piece, however, might be an original concept, and the rarity of that makes it all the more valuable to me.

You also find many great Todd Marsh images as well, and he has a particularly nice Melissa Steiner shot on page 108. He is also featured in a full color spread on page 147 that shows us Lindon’s Company and a lovely Zeus Battlemech.

Another artist many of you might not heard of is Bill Perry, a black and white specialist who captures some fantastic action shots concerning Mechs in the book, but also rendered a candid image of Alexander Davion that always made his story a favorite of mine in the history section of the supplement.

Rick Harris also makes an appearance, as he seems to in nearly every FASA book ever created, and we also get some black and white work from Jim Nelson, Dana Knutson, David Zenz, and Chris Palm which means an astounding 11 artists were used in the supplements creation.

To put that in perspective, the 1989 hardcover AD&D 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook from TSR used only 9 artists to fill its pages and that’s the official flagship core book!

In closing, House Davion holds a keystone place in the history of RPGs, and if you ever have a chance to find a copy of it I’d highly suggest you take a serious look because it never fails to impress.

If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field here or even come say hello on Facebook here. And here’s a view of my current Kickstarter

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Damn Fedrat…

But yeah FASA had some nice artists back in the 80s. Sure the art could be nearly schizophrenic from page to page but when they hit, they hit it perfectly.

Like the mechwarrior above…

I have a copy of Shrapnel: Fragments from the Inner Sphere which was a sort of a combination short story/art book. It has a lot of the better artwork from all the sourcebooks, novels, etc. There are some beautiful pieces in it.

Sarah Avery

Don’t mess with me when the life of a beautiful imaginary woman is on the line!

Well put, sir!

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