Planning & Hosting an Interactive Murder Mystery
A little over a year ago I attended a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater hosted by a theater company in Sacramento. It was semi-interactive, and a lot of fun. Since then, I have attended three interactive murder mystery dinner parties, one of which I hosted. The guests were the actors. We had to dress the part and play the part. We revealed clues about others while concealing clues about ourselves, all in character. None of use knew “who done it.” While I am certainly not an expert, I have learned a few things that may be helpful to you if you ever decide to host an interactive murder mystery in your own home.
The first and most important thing when planning a party like this is time. It is difficult to plan an interactive murder mystery dinner party at the last minute, partly because it is a role-playing game and your guests need to come prepared for that, and partly because planning anything last minute can add stress which may take the fun out of the party. Therefore, I have created a 6-week timetable for planning, and listed key information under the timeline.
6 Weeks Before
Choosing a Murder Mystery Game and Venue
- You can find murder mystery games for purchase online at a variety of websites-
- You may be able to find some at a game store.I was lucky to find one like this at a thrift store for just a couple bucks.
- Decide which game is best for you and your friends based on interests.Many of them are theme and/or decade based.Purchase the game right away.
- Choosing a venue can sometimes be a challenge.The biggest thing to consider while choosing a venue is space.Many games will require a minimum of 8 players, and some will have up to 20.I hosted a game with 14 players and we were comfortable using the living room and kitchen of a house.
5 Weeks Before
Set a Date and Send the Invitations
- Set a date for the event.
- Keep in mind that things happen. Some guests will cancel at the last minute, and you need to be prepared for this. The last thing you want to happen is a last minute cancelation with nobody to fill that role. To remedy this, invite more people than the game includes. At my party, I had two people cancel at the last minute. Luckily, I had an abundance of guests, so all I had to do was switch two of the characters around and we were still able to play.
- If you double the guest list, it may mean you have more people than characters. But don’t worry about that. There are plenty of options and ideas so that everyone can have a role. I will discuss this more later.
- What to include in the invitations: 1) a description of the game, (copied from the website, or if it’s a box game, you can copy the description directly from the formal invitations that came with the game). 2) When and where the event will be hosted. 3) A date for your guests to reply (see bullet below).
- To generate curiosity about the event, create invitations that highlight the theme, mood, and setting. For example, the game I hosted was set in Hollywood in the thirties. The location of the dinner (according to the game) was the Oriental Gardens Theater. So, that is what I put on the invitation for the location, along with the real address of the venue, of course. Additionally,
- The RSVP: You’ll need to have an estimate of how many guests are planning to come a couple of weeks in advance so you can assign characters, create new roles, and send additional correspondence to the guests.
- Finally, make sure guests are aware that this is an interactive murder mystery dinner party, and they will be dressing in costumes and role-playing.
- Don’t start allocating characters yet, as all you are trying to do at this early stage is generate interest.
3-4 Weeks Before
Monitor the Guest List
- If you’re getting a lot of response, you may have to begin thinking about adding additional characters and roles.If not, than no need to start worrying about this yet.You won’t need to add characters or read the player manuals (although you should read through any introductory information).
- If it looks like you may be adding characters and roles AND you purchased a game in a box, you will also need to begin typing up the player manuals. You don’t want your guests to know which characters are added.If some people are using the game manuals, and others are not, your guests will know.Every character must start with an equal chance at being suspect.
- Yes, this means you have to read the game, and you will know too much to play fairly.You will have to give yourself a small role as a result.But, in order to add characters, you need to know the entire game and all of the clues anyhow.I created the role of a hostess for myself, which was not too difficult.I did have some clues, and a motive for being suspect.But my essential duty was to host and serve food.
- If your guests are asking for more information, you can tell them you will be sending out more information in another couple of weeks.Be careful not to reveal too much information to them.
- It is not necessary to decorate, but it always helps create atmosphere.Think about the theme and setting of your game, and try to stick with that.
- At the very least, you should take note of any anachronistic items from the venue.For example, if your setting is in the thirties, you don’t want a flat screen television, and you certainly don’t want a computer or laptop visible.
- Props may be useful too.They give something for the characters to do.My game had a gossip columnist and I added an undercover detective who was posing as a reporter.For them, I cut out strips of computer paper, markers, and at the end of each round they wrote headlines from the information gathered during that round.They hung them on the wall with the other clues and helped others recall information from previous rounds.
- If you are not excited about serving a full, 4-course meal, you can have a variety of finger foods available, buffet style.This way, guests are not so distracted by eating that they forget about playing the game.Guests can also help themselves to the food.
- You can also do a pot-luck style meal.Once you pass the rsvp deadline, and you have a better idea of who will be coming, you can ask guests to bring a dish and give them options to choose.
- You can also serve a full course meal, prepared/bought by you. Depending on how many guests you have, you can sit around a dining table, or serve the food as guests mingle.
- Depending on which of the above options you choose, you will need to decide on a menu.If you are preparing a full meal, the key are to choose dishes that do not take too much prep time, and have a plan so it all gets done in a timely manner, and so nothing gets cold.
2 Weeks Before
Finalize Guest List & Adding Characters/Roles
- By now, you have hopefully arrived at your rsvp deadline and you should have a good idea who’s in and who’s out.If you’re still unsure about some people, this is a great week to start making phone calls to get a commitment.
- If you have more guests than characters for the game, you need to start adding characters.There are some game manufacturers that have additional characters for purchase.This, of course is the easy thing to do.However, if your game does not have this option, you will have to get creative.I have created an additional hub on how to create characters- Hosting a Murder Mystery Party: Creating Additional Character Roles
- Remember that if you are adding characters/roles, AND you purchased your game in a box, you will need to type up all of the player manuals.Hopefully you started doing this in the previous two weeks, and have completed it.As you begin to add new characters, use the same formatting as you used for the original characters (i.e. Word, Cambria, 12-font, etc.)This way, everything is consistent and nobody will know which characters are made up, and which ones are original.
- You can cast the characters as early as the day after your rsvp deadline.The sooner the better so your guests can familiarize themselves with the character and start shopping for a costume.
- Type up the character descriptions and costume suggestions in one document and email it out to everyone.DO NOT list the cast in order of importance.The best thing to do is list the characters in alphabetical.
- Be flexible and ready to change the cast at least once.As already mentioned, some guests may cancel and you may need to reassign roles.You may also need to invite a few more people at the last minute.I ended up recasting four times for my party, and again just an hour before the party started.
Print, Cut, and Stuff Envelopes:
- Set aside 2 hours to do this, and if you can get help from a co-host, do it!
- Printing: Whether you have purchased your game online, or typed up the player manuals, you will need to print these out.
- Cutting: A murder mystery game is divided into rounds.There are usually 4 rounds, an introduction and a solution for each character.Each character has information to reveal and conceal in each round.Cut out each round for each character and begin creating piles.For example, in one pile, you will include: character a- introduction, rounds 1-4, solution.
- Stuffing: Begin stuffing the envelopes, per character, per round.Each character will have a stack of six envelopes as follows: character a- introduction, rounds 1-4, solution.
- Note that you can set it up so that character b reads character a’s solution at the end of the game.To do this, just put character a’s solution in character b’s stack.
- Also note that you can use other, creative methods of putting together the character manuals.For my party, instead of stuffing envelopes, I rolled them up as scrolls, labeled them by round with color coordinated popsycle sticks, and put them in decorated cups.Each character had one cup where all his/her information was.Tie the scrolls with ribbon, twine, or rubber bands and create labels for them with the character’s name.
- Finally, some characters will have specific clues to share throughout each round.You can include these in their envelope packets, or you can put the clues on a table and they can get them as directed in the player manuals.These clues can be hung up on the wall after each round, along with the headlines mentioned above.
- If there is any additional information guests should know about the theme, mood, setting of the event, you should send it out now.For example, my game came with an introductory article (clue).I could have included this in my invitation several weeks ago, but I decided to wait and send it closer to the event.
1 Week Before
Revised Cast Lists
- If need be, send out any new, revised cast lists.Again, you may have to do this a few times.
Food & Groceries
- If finger foods or full meal- finalize menu and purchase groceries.
- If buffet- check to make sure food and drinks are covered adequately and send a reminder email to those contributing about what they are bringing.
- Finalize decorating ideas, and purchase any necessary materials/props.
2 Days Before
Run Through Rules & Prep Guide
- Some games include a list of rules, especially those that involve gun-fights, and other action packed events.Be sure to try these out.
- A kind gentleman sent me a guidelines which I emailed to guests to prepare them for the game.Because it is interactive, you want to make sure everyone knows how to play and have fun.I will be happy to email it to you.Just leave me a comment below.
- Nametags will help your guests know who’s who in the game.If you added characters and/or your game did not come with nametags, you can easily create nametags using Microsoft Office.In addition to the name, you can include the role, (i.e. Denise Dayer, Co-Director).
- Print the nametags out on a thick cardstock.
- You can buy nametag pins at any craft store.Use double sided tape to attach them.
- Some games allow an hour for each round.This may be too much time.I suggest about 10-25 minutes for each round.As the game progresses, it can get more complicated and bogged down with clues and details.My first round was 10-minutes, and my last round was 25-minutes.
- I also included 5-minute breaks in between rounds, which allowed everyone to think, digest, and prepare for the next round by reading their player manuals.
1 Day Before
- If you are going to have prizes for people, such as best costume, best actor/actress, best guess, and more, today is the day to purchase the gifts and get them wrapped.
- Create a small voting slip for guests to vote at the end of the game. These slips can also be used to write their guesses. I created a jury of 3 people who counted these votes at the end.
- Get your venue ready. This includes the decorations, the player manuals, and food table, etc.
- You probably need a large table, or several smaller tables to set up the player manuals. This is where you want to put the envelope stacks for each character, and their nametags.
- Be sure to have plenty of seating and space to walk for guests to walk around.
- Also, clear out a space for food and drink.
The Day of the Party
- This will be a big day if you are cooking a full meal.Otherwise, all you will need to do for food is confirm with others to make sure they remember to bring their dish.
Play the Game
- Allow time for guests to arrive before starting.Let the first 30-minutes be for guests to arrive, settle in, and mingle before starting the game.
- Introduce yourself, and the game.Go over the guidelines, (the same ones you emailed).Answer any questions guests may have. Make sure everyone knows where their player manual is located, where the itinerary can be found, where the clues will be hung, and where the bathroom(s) is.
- Begin with an introduction to the characters.Then, start playing.
- Have fun!
- Please let me know how your game was, what worked, and what didn’t work, and suggest any other ideas for planning and hosting an interactive murder mystery game.