It’s the last chance to see an exhibit some tabletop role play fans might call a “critical hit.”
“Hero’s Feast,” the Renton History Museum’s exhibit of all things Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), is wrapping up on Oct. 16. The exhibit offers something for game fans and newbies alike, and has a multigenerational impact on visitors, according to Museum Curator Sarah Samson.
“Grandparents have come in with their grandkids for this one,” Samson said, adding that people of various ages often explain the game to each other.
Guest curator for the exhibit Allison Moore said including items from both early and modern D&D helped reach the wide audience, at a time when the game is finally hitting the mainstream in pop culture, stripped of some of the negative stereotypes. For example, Samson’s knowledge of D&D before this program was Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
Samson was teaching a course in the University of Washington Museology Graduate Program, of which she is an alumna, when student Moore proposed the exhibit. She has since graduated and returned home to Atlanta, Georgia.
Moore was already interested in the tabletop game, being a player herself after watching her older brother. She had the dream in her graduate studies of one day doing an exhibit around D&D. Separately, she’d been thinking about doing her thesis at the Renton History Museum.
“I did one Google search of the town, and Wizards of the Coast popped up immediately,” Moore said.
Wizards of the Coast, headquartered here in Renton, own D&D. Moore felt a spark of hope that her tabletop game exhibit could happen. She then brought her proposal to Samson, who was also excited.
They hit a snag early on; the museum had no collections or items related to the game or company. So instead, every item at this exhibit had to come from community members. Moore had no idea if she’d be able to get local role play fiends to come out of the woodwork, and was thinking of backup exhibits.
Moore spent a couple months gauging interests and meeting folks who played D&D or were affiliated with Wizards of the Coast. By the end of outreach, about 15 Renton people contributed to the exhibit, including personal collections of old player’s handbooks, art, and personal notes from their D&D games. She also did several oral history interviews, which are quoted in the exhibit.
One interview was with someone Moore knew used to work for Wizards of the Coast. It turned out he was one of the original founders of the company, Winston Woodall. He told her about how growing up playing D&D inspired them to create their own gaming company.
Wizards of the Coast didn’t directly contribute to the exhibit, but Moore said the company was supportive of the project and it gave the exhibit a community focus.
JD Wiker, a game-miniature artist in Renton who used to work for Wizards of the Coast, created a display for the exhibit that includes almost 200 D&D-related minis. Seattle-based gaming podcast “d20 Dames” also recorded an episode inside of the exhibit. The podcast was featured in the exhibit as well.
“It was such a unique experience performing a live show at the museum and a little surreal too, seeing our faces on an exhibit placard,” d20 Dames’ Kat Kruger stated in an email. “There were a couple older women in the audience who had no experience with the game so we explained as we went along and it was just really a lovely experience overall.”
Kruger runs the games and explains to the other players what’s happening during D&D, a role known as the Dungeon Master. For the event she created a “Night at the Museum” scenario for them to play. Kruger stated in an email it was a great feeling hosting an all-female, predominately women of color, group, which makes a difference in D&D player representation.
Unlike most exhibits, this one covers a history and current events. Moore said this was in contrast to the other project she’s work on about World War II. News was breaking in the D&D community as Moore was printing labels for the displays. She knew people would have conversations about the game in the exhibit, and hoped to provide a forum for that to happen.
The project demonstrated to Moore the power of an exhibit that tells your story, or your community’s story, as it’s happening. Folks like to see historical institutions that recognize history is living and growing, she said.
As for the name, “Hero’s Feast”? Moore said it wasn’t easy to come up with. She gathered fellow players in a group text to get name ideas, when someone suggested it, the name of a high-level spell in D&D. A magical feast appears, and all the players gather to eat. She said it mirrors the community of players gathered in real life at a dining room table.
“There’s an excitement that comes with D&D and a sense of community around the table,” Moore said. “You leave feeling a little better.”
Moore also hopes she’s created a few new D&D fans with the exhibit, which includes several interactive pieces that Samson said is the museum’s most interactive program yet.