Help me design the best murder mystery party
April 29, 2017 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Bae and I are planning a murder mystery party from scratch, and I am soliciting ideas for cool features.

We love interesting game elements and lying/deception, but also want our event to have lots of side quests and different ways to win. Please tell me what you liked and didn't like about murder mystery parties you have attended (pre-purchase and make-your-own); thoughts on game elements and/or types of clues that we could try experimenting with; ideas on facilitating the players to keep secrets but also build various alliances with each other; etc. Really open to borrowing suggestions from larping, tabletop rpgs, traditional board games, improv, murder mystery books, etc. I am looking to cast a big brainstorming net so we can pick and choose what to include -- feel free to throw out anything you think of that could be relevant or useful!

We have an excellent theme complete with props, character/motives ideas, and food ideas, so no suggestions needed there. If it matters, in our chosen theme, everyone will be a human with no superpowers/fantasy powers, and bae and I will be game masters/the deceased. We are thinking of having some kind of currency, as well as prizes at the end for various accomplishments (like solving the mystery(s), best dressed, etc.). I think we have a good sense of how to host an event generally, but if there are specific logistical experiences about hosting or attending murder mystery dinners that you think could be important, feel free to throw those in too. Thanks!
posted by likeatoaster to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I asked this last year if it helps. The package I bought was much more role-playing and open ended than the "how to host a murder" party in a box things, and overall it worked pretty well.

The biggest pitfall we had - and this may or may not be applicable depending on your group - is that for the first half of the game or so people really didn't know just how much freedom they had, even with all of my hinting. There was a map of the "mansion" included in each player's envelope, but a lot of people didn't even realize they could go visit other rooms. I think we could have come to a better finale if everyone had been more prepared, so it may have just been inexperience on all our parts. After a while I started dropping hints unprompted to some of the players - as this was a "fancy mansion dinner party murder" kind of thing, I was able to play the gossipy butler and it kept in the theme.

The other challenge I had personally as the gamemaster was that once people started figuring out that they could try to do just about anything, I was suddenly swamped with people trying to perform skill checks (basically me deciding if their request was within the spirit of the game and then rock-paper-scissors to see if they pass). I'm not sure of a better way of handling this, unfortunately.

One thing I think helped a lot with pacing was having a timeline to follow. The game absolutely ended after a few hours, and every hour or so something new happened - hidden identity revealed, body discovered, stuff like that. So if people were foundering every so often something happened that could spark a new line of thinking.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:12 AM on April 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Back in college, my friends and I did a bunch of these (mostly pre-purchased, although some that one or another of us wrote.) Some random thoughts:

• I agree with Backseatpilot that having a timeline helps. This could be chronological or round-based. In one game I remember, a player might have an envelope that would say "Do not open until Round 3" and then they'd open it and it would say, "You just remembered: last night, you saw your husband hiding something behind the lamp in the living room. Go see what it was." By linking it to a specific timeline, the authors could control the release of information. By leaving it in the hands of a player, the authors relinquished a little control and left room for improvisation.

• Give your players as much info about their characters as you can BEFORE the day of the game, so they can get fully in character.

• In these games -- unlike in mystery novels -- the most satisfying solutions tended to lean on objective logic rather than creative leaps. One satisfying solution I remember involved working out the timeline of events from logic-puzzle like clues. (Joe remembers seeing Jane's car parked in the lot when he arrived at the scene. Jane remembers seeing Arthur hitchhiking when she was driving there. Etc.) In a different game, the frustrating and unsatisfying solution required guessing that something described as "a piece of curved blue glass" was a colored contact lens.

I think the issue is that when you have people running around interrogating each other, you automatically add in a lot of creativity and uncertainty, and so the mystery itself has to be a bedrock of logic. (That said, if you are including sidequests, you might have some subplots that do not have objectively correct solutions, and offer prizes for "Most creative solution" or something like that. I just think that the central mystery should be as logical as possible.)
posted by yankeefog at 7:37 AM on April 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

To add a little more detail to what we have already brainstormed in hopes of broadening the thoughts about what is possible: we are planning on focusing on a confined outdoor space and including scavenger-hunt elements; having the pacing advanced by individual social goals (like getting as many other players to participate in X character-specific goal) AND hidden puzzles, which when solved (either individually or with help from other people) would give access to information that each character could decide whether or how to share, and to who; and we would allow/encourage all lying as consistent with unchangeable character motivations. The hope is that the theme we have picked has built-in incentives for people to talk to each other and share information (and/or lies), and we may have some kind of fame/popularity prize at the end as well.

Every character would have an obvious motive in common for killing the murderer and some would have additional secret motives as revealed throughout the course of the game.

I also just saw this old question which has some good tips. Any other thoughts on how things have been fun successfully or not would be very helpful!
posted by likeatoaster at 8:14 AM on April 29, 2017

If you want to incorporate Carmen Sandiego like characters traveling and have a specific year in mind, you could get an official railway guide (which has air travel and cruise lines too up until the late 60's) that they have to open up and track down when and how characters might have travelled.
posted by nickggully at 8:40 AM on April 29, 2017

How about using a Tarot deck layout as a clue. The decks often come with a small booklet with a very pared down explanation of the cards. You could alter it to give the clues by way of the cards that were layed out in the reading. Maybe have a few more cards hidden around so players must run back for the book to decipher another clue.
One clue could be done in morse code, possibly in a envelope addressed to the victim. Is the stamp part of the clue? How about that strange colored ink? Where did I see a morse code legend? Maybe framed and hung on the wall?
I think you should have the board game "Clue" sitting somewhere with one or more clues inside, because CLUE.
That space on the bottom of some wine bottles would be a good place to hide a Clue. Make sure some one notices the bottom of the bottle has been altered.
I've never been to one of these but I love this sort of thing. Is that at all what you are looking for?
posted by BoscosMom at 4:39 PM on April 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went to a murder mystery dinner that had far too many people in attendance and then the "winners" ended up being the table that submitted the most creative solution. There was no actual solution to the story and that was really unsatisfying for me. Don't do that.
posted by soelo at 8:11 AM on May 1, 2017

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