How to be a good (murder mystery) host
May 18, 2016 6:29 AM   Subscribe

We're having a murder mystery party this weekend, and I'm acting as the "host". I need some advice.

We got a package from Freeform Games, which apparently distinguishes its mysteries by being a bit more RPG-like and less scripted than other murder mystery games. The game requires a host/facilitator to run things, and that responsibility has fallen to me. I'm fairly quick on my feet, but I've never done something like this before (or actually even participated in a murder mystery game!). I've read through their advice articles and forums, but I have a couple specific questions:

1) The games require some thinking out of the box and encourage the players to try new things. How do I respond to potentially ridiculous or game-breaking requests? I'd rather avoid just saying no outright - is there a way to allow people to attempt stupid actions and still keep the game together? The instructions give the example of trying to set the house on fire (and responding by telling the player the curtains are fireproofed), but I'd like to give the player the option to try setting the house on fire and potentially punishing them for it (for example, "success" might mean learning the curtains are fireproof and "failure" means accidentally setting yourself on fire and losing your jacket in an attempt to extinguish it). Is this a terrible idea?

2) There are some non-obvious actions not explicitly called out in the character info sheets that I feel are fairly necessary for the successful resolution of the game, but the instructions say not to explicitly tell the players that they can do these actions to reward people that figure it out early (and prevent a stampede of everyone trying those actions all at once). I need a subtle way to encourage people to explore and try new things. How can I do that without coming right out and saying that people should consider doing a particular thing?

If you have any other advice for running a game like this, I want to hear it!
posted by backseatpilot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Re: the first point, this sounds like a great way to handle this. This is more or less exactly how I responded when a player in my D&D campaign kept trying to pull increasingly imaginative things out of the pockets of her Robe of Useful Items. Instead of crushing her dreams of pulling an entire three course dinner out of her pocket, I just made it into a skill check, and let her try to pull things out of her pockets with variable levels of success. It was WAY more fun that way. :)

For the second point, if this is being run similar to an RPG, the best way to clue players into something they should maybe explore a little more is to drop a little Chekhov's Gun on whatever you want them to look at more. Rather than just saying, "You're in the room with the body," and hoping they'll find the murder weapon stashed in the fireplace, describe it more like, "The body glows faintly orange in the light of the dying embers in the ornate fireplace along the back wall of the room." That way when it comes time to explore the room, they know there's a fireplace to check out.

Good luck! This sounds like loads of fun!
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:15 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've run a number of Freeform games. They're pretty great and run really smoothly.

Players will be busier than you think. Reading the whole game makes everything look a lot simpler than it is from any individual's perspective, so players spend a lot of time making connections and gathering information. They all have plenty on their plates, and usually a few ways to cause chaos on their character sheets already (pickpocketing, poison, blackmail material, etc.), so they don't need further outlets. I wouldn't worry about #1 too much, but your approach seems like fun.

As for 2, depending on the game you picked, players will be coming up to you in private somewhere between occasionally and constantly so they can use their abilities, search other rooms, etc. If some connection isn't being made, you can take one of those opportunities to gently steer someone in the right direction.

Have a great time!
posted by Garm at 7:28 AM on May 18, 2016

Also, it might be helpful to come up with a loose timeline in your head, since the game is supposed to be resolved in one "sitting" you want to make sure that events still move along at a reasonable pace. If it's 10pm and they've been stuck for the past half hour, giving bigger and bigger hints is totally OK. It's no fun to hit a brick wall, but as long as my Storytellers never come right out and say "The McGuffin is RIGHT THERE. How could you miss it?" I've never noticed anyone minding getting a couple heavy-handed hints.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 9:15 AM on May 18, 2016

If your group is encouraged to dress up but it's optional, there will probably be one person who thought it was too much trouble but when they got there and saw everyone else dressed up, they wish they had. If you had some easy scarves, hats, paper/scissors/markers/tape that I (uh, I mean) THE PERSON could maybe use to put together a little bit of a costume-indicator, that would be a grand thing to do.
posted by CathyG at 2:38 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't offer you any advice except have a ball!

I haven't participated in this kind of thing in yonks! I loved those games!
posted by james33 at 4:29 AM on May 19, 2016

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