I don't have a butler, though, so that's right out.
September 22, 2011 10:49 AM   Subscribe

How might one go about having a (murder?) mystery-themed dinner party?

Lately, I've been re-reading some favorite books from my childhood, and I was delighted to discover that The Westing Game was just as wonderful as I remembered it being. What I loved best about it was that all the necessary information to solve the mystery was presented at the beginning of the book (no final "gotchas" at the end), and solving the mystery required groups of people to work together, share clues, and cooperate. I also really like Clue (the movie), though I suspect Tim Curry won't be able to make it to my party.

Anyway, I started thinking: this would be fun to do with friends. While eating food.

I know they sell murder mystery party kits, but I'm not interested in those. I want to do it myself.

Things I have thought of so far:

-first and foremost, write an interesting little story with a mystery to solve
-hide physical clues around my apartment for people to find while milling about and socializing
-the food served can be a clue (e.g. the dessert is French and the killer has a French name)
-partial clues given to each person so they have to work together

Have any of you ever orchestrated something like this? How did it go? What would you do differently next time? Should I assign each person a specific character to play? TELL ME EVERYTHING!

It's more important for my friends to walk away thinking, "hey! that was pretty fun! phunniemee is kind of a dork, though," than "man, that was a rockin' party." Which is to say: I am open to any and all suggestions, no matter how corny they may be. I wear my dorkitude with pride.
posted by phunniemee to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I wrote my own and it kind of sucked, in comparison. A friend of mine did a murder mystery from Freeform Games, and it was pretty awesome.
posted by jeather at 11:07 AM on September 22, 2011

Response by poster: I wrote my own and it kind of sucked, in comparison.

Can you be specific? How was it different? In what ways did it kind of suck? Since I plan on writing it myself, these are the sorts of things I'm really interested in knowing.
posted by phunniemee at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2011

Best answer: I have been to a few murder mystery dinner parties and I have to say that the purchased games in all cases were terrible. The clues did not lead anywhere and it ended up being a guessing game, not a mystery. I think writing your own is fantastic idea.

Two things that come to mind:

1. Assign people characters with a backstory. Dressing up to go to the parties I attended was the most fun aspect. Bonus good times for assigning character traits like the drunkard, the gossip, the flirt etc. If the attendees were enthusiastic about portraying their role it was good times.

2. Include instructions to characters of actions/statements they must do/say at certain times, or after certain events.
posted by skinnydipp at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2011

Best answer: One of the advantages of the commercial kits is that they take into account a lot of plotting, pacing and logistics that might be hard to nail down without doing several test runs. What if you secretly started with a pre-made one and then customized the details to fit your aesthetic? That way you'd at least be working from a template that had been play-tested, and you could add the fun of your creative touches without the pressure to anticipate all the logistical parts.
posted by zepheria at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are some pretty good free ones out there like Sour Grapes of Wrath. Even if you want to make your own, take a look at those for structural suggestions. The key is to have all the information needed available to all of the players, but segmented, so people need to talk to each other and share information. There also needs to be a system to incentivize or force people to share information. Discovered clues can be neat, but need to discovered. If you're moderating/playing the victim, you can help by dropping progressively less subtle hints. You should also probably attach a note to the clue saying 'This is a clue! Share it with everybody!', just in case. It can be neat to give everyone else a subject they want to look into and a subject they would prefer to avoid. This can lead to some fun conversation, with people trying to deflect and redirect discussion. Makes people look guilty.

But yeah, look at what you're trying to emulate, get the structure down, see why it works and then go for it! Enjoy!
posted by Garm at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The clues didn't work out properly together, it was too easy or too hard, too long or too short -- even if you want to write your own, I recommend looking at a premade one to see how they do things. The box games are a little straightforward (some good, some completely terrible), but if you want to play as the host, they're fun enough. The freeform games are less puzzle-y, and more "convince someone to do what you want them to, and/or kill them", and you win more on achieving goals than on finding the murderer.
posted by jeather at 11:39 AM on September 22, 2011

Best answer: I've participated in (never organized myself) a few things like this, both homemade and from various kit type things. Definitely definitely assign people roles -- like skinnydipp said, dressing up is one of the best parts, and playing a role really cuts down on self-consciousness and helps people get into it. You should write up a short bio of each character and give it to people beforehand, so they can dress up/get psyched/memorize secret identities.

There are a few different ways you can go about doing it.

1. Have a basic murder scenario, where the goal is to figure out who the murderer was. In this case, you generally start out by explaining basic information about the murder scene, and each person gets information they can choose whether or not to reveal. Usually you'll give people more and more information over the course of the game.

2. The other way you can do this is to have each person have different goals that they are in charge of completing over the course of the game. I did one mystery game where there was fake money that was distributed (different amounts for different characters) along with various "weapons" that there were rules for using (for example, a pistol that could fire one shot, and you would flip a coin to see if the shot was successful). Different characters had different goals -- one character had to somehow acquire enough money to buy some documents without getting killed, another character had to turn a criminal into the police, (which meant they had to figure out which character's secret identity was the one they were looking for), etc. Many, but not all, of the goals for the characters were mutually exclusive.

Some things to keep in mind:

- You need to establish at the beginning to what extent it's ok for people to lie. Because the game usually depends on different characters having different pieces of information, it can fall apart if people can just outright say things that aren't true. Often there's a rule like -- you can try and deflect people's questions all you want, but you can't deliberately lie and contradict information you have.

- If you're doing the murder mystery scenario, you need to decide whether the "murderer" (who will presumably be the character of one of the party guests) knows that they are the murderer, or if they're trying to figure out out along with everyone else. I've seen it done both ways.
posted by sparrow89 at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We held a murder mystery dinner party, which had some hits, some misses.


- we made up the story, and customised it to the backstories of this group of friends. This helped keep people laughing and engaged (including things like photoshopped photos from school days, etc

- we told the designated killer that he was the killer and nothing else. So we had one person amongst the guests committed to keeping the game going as well as keeping others guessing.

- we have access to a lovely urban outdoor space, so we could include a scavenger hunt in the party.


- it was hard keeping the flow going around the food (granted, this was a 7 course meal)

- as jeather said, we didn't get the clues and pacing quite right.

If I were to do it again, I'd probably customise a pre-made game, or just play mafia with props.
posted by tavegyl at 11:50 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have regrettably little experience with such things, but I can only suggest that, in honor of Roald Dahl, you serve leg of lamb as the main course.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 1:56 PM on September 22, 2011

I came to recommend freeform games. Our group didn't really have a chance at solving the murder, but it was because we were too busy having an AMAZING time. We all had goals to accomplish and rivals to ruin. It got a little crazy when people started to try to kill each other with the cardboard weapons provided by the game. All in all, it was hilarious whether people were in character or just giggling nervously.

I have also attended a boxed game and it was a lot less fun.
posted by Gor-ella at 2:00 PM on September 22, 2011

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