If you need to know anything about me, it’s that I love force-inviting my friends to play paper telephone or hosting gimmicky parties. One of my favourite “gimmicky parties” was a murder mystery party that my friend Anika and I jointly hosted two years ago.
Murder mysteries are fun, and pretty self-explanatory: everyone has secrets, one or two (or three) people die, there’s gossiping to figure out what happened, illicit sex happens behind closed doors, etc. In short, just a typical get-together for friends from high school.
It’s a ton of fun, but (real talk), loads of work. This kind of party takes a lot of extra preparation and work ahead of time, so time management skills are key. But it’s worth it, and with my trusty tips and tricks below, you’ll be set up to host your first murder in no time!
Planning the Party
There are a number of things to consider for a murder mystery party: you’ve got the typical party things, like the number of guests, food, location, etc but you additionally need to consider the elements of the actual murder part, which involve:
- the theme
- the rules
- the characters
Tip #1: Make use of Google Docs or another great alternative, O365, which you may be able to get free from your university. A lot of our executive decisions and planning were made difficult by the fact that we were 350 kilometres apart for most of the initial planning period, but we would leave notes for each other in our Google docs. It was also a great place to store links and pdfs that we had found online.
Tip #2: Give yourselves at least two weeks to begin planning the party. This means sorting out the themes, figuring out the invitations, the locale, etc. etc. For the type of Murder Mystery that Anika and I hosted, it was absolutely essential to know the number of people who were coming.
As such, we created a Facebook event and told everyone to seriously RSVP (not that wishy-washy “Interested” bullshit or even worse, selecting “Going” even though you know you can’t but do it so you can continue making trash comments on the event page).
Plotting the Murder
Alright, now that the date is set and the location confirmed, it’s finally time to plan the murder.
There are two ways of doing this: you can lift one off the internet (boring, but understandable… I guess), or you can make your own (you creative genius, you).
We made the executive decision to make our own murder mystery game, complete with our own rules and characters, because a. we had to deal with 17 guests (which far exceeded the maximum for any game we found online), and b. I love pain and am very much what you call an uber nerd.
Now that you’ve decided to make your own, consider these three key elements to a murder mystery:
- The Theme
- The Characters (and their respective relationships, storylines, etc.)
- The Rules
I’d heavily suggest going in the order I suggest above. Each previous step gives you guidance for the proceeding one (having a theme helps you write the characters and their relationships, and once you have the characters, you can tailor the rules to specific ones).
There are a ton of possibilities.
- Cocktail party
- “Murder on the Orient Express” (Get it, because I’m from the Orient)
- Academia (I’d heavily advocate for this theme for its cathartic nature)
- County fair
- International locations (like in Milan)
- Cruise ship
We found a lot of these simply through Googling, on websites like Party411.
Our theme was (get ready for it): Ottawa & Politics, and this was the scene:
A simple fundraising party for a local charity (Dads Against Double Dipping) is happening when someone is murdered in cold blood. When the Chief of Police goes to call for backup, he/she receives notification that a sudden deadly and airborne strain of ebola has struck the city and everyone is required to stay inside, lest the ebola infect the city’s most important citizens.
It’s up to the citizens to find and catch the murderer before it’s too late!
This was me, as you can probably tell. And yes, I know I’m trash, thank you very much. But after we established our theme, that gave us an easy transition into the characters.
Once you know your guestlist, you can count the number of people who fall under each gender and create a list of characters based on this number. You can make the characters independent of the guests (and then match them by way of a random number generator after they’ve all been written), or write characters with individual people in mind. It doesn’t matter!
These are the characters I established for my friends, most of whom were heavily influenced by current events of 2014:
- Tory: SENATOR Patricia Brazzers – a Senator in the Senate
- Marta: MP – Danielle de Mickey – An MP in the House of Commons
- Emily: RADIO STAR – Jean Gertschi – Sleazy radio star of a national institution
- Fiona: MAYOR – Roberta Fonda – Portly and drug-addicted mayor of the city
- Kristina: JOURNALIST – Susie Davids – Reporter who ended up at the party, looking for dirt
- Nick: CAPTAIN OF THE LOCAL NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM – Daniel Burns
- Justin: FAMOUS SINGER-SONGWRITER- Karter Edmunds
- Danii: OLDER PHILANTHROPIST – Martine Kinosawa
- Dane: F- LOCAL VP OF A MAJOR INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION (INTERNATIONAL, visiting in town) – Ralph Zamboni
- Katherine: M – MAJOR ARCHITECT AND URBAN DEVELOPER – Diane Glover
- Benet: M – Husband of Roberta Fonda (Benet because he’s going to be late): Ronald Fonda
- Kim: GOLDEN BOY ENTREPRENEUR WHO KICKSTARTED A LOCAL COMPANY THAT GOT BIG (SHOPIFY OR BLACKBERRY) – Milly Lasagna
- Jamie: F – BIG SHOT ACADEMIC WHO HAS AIDED IN NUMEROUS COMMITTEE REVIEWS BUT SECRETLY CORRUPT – Ross Finlay
- Matt: OWNER OF THE LOCAL NATIONAL HOCKEY TEAM – Edbert Malkovich
- Marta: CHIEF OF POLICE – Carla Bisson
- Mitch: PRIEST OF ST. MARK’S BAPTIST CHURCH – Father Miguel Ambriosso
Here comes the tricky part: each of these characters are going to need relationships to other characters (but maybe limit it to 2-3 other character relationships). These are things you’ll need to consider:
- Their backgrounds
- Their personality traits
- The nature of their relationships to other people
- Their goals throughout the game
Tip #3: Map out the storylines. Make a graph, record all of the relationships on a separate piece of paper, whatever you want. Make sure you know how each relates to each other, because that’s a murder mystery is sustained.
If you want a frame of reference, take a look at the document that I wrote detailing the backgrounds of all of the characters, personality traits, “secrets”, and goals that they needed to accomplish for points.
Okay, this is the trickiest part. But it also doesn’t need to be that hard… I think. Just use other murder mysteries as reference, if you need to. All you’re really doing is setting up the structure to win the game.
Tip #4: Don’t feel the need to re-invent the wheel. You can pilfer the rules from a number of pre-existing murder mystery games online, or pick and choose the elements you like the most (like we did).
These were our instructions/rules:
- Don’t break character.
- Limit the places that they can go: Upstairs is off limits. **boundaries to be decided later.
- There are three prizes:
- Best Costume
- Most money
- Whoever figures out the murderer
- Explain our roles (Anika and Amy) as the hostesses– we can have 7/8 cards that we can use to ask us questions, but they have to be yes/no questions (or I don’t know), and they can only be answers that either of us overhear. Once a character knows (or thinks they know) who the murderer is they should come to us and let us know. Then we’ll group together and they can accuse the murderer.
- Role for money (because we gave each character money to use/spend/bribe on other characters):
- Use it to bribe people for information (the information being the secrets that each character was given)
- For every goal you accomplish, you get $100 more.
- The game ends when the murderer either kills everyone except for one person or if someone figures out the murderer and their secret.
- Anika & Amy will hold individual meetings at the beginning :
- To give printed copies of their secrets and “goals”. (We’ll also give them the secrets and the motivations separately)
- Pick the murderer (use the deck).
- Give the murderer a set of chips to give to their victims
- Info for the murderer: please be sure to kill at least one character who is relevant to your character background and story.
- Also for the murderer: During our individual meetings with people, we will ask you who will die the next round.
- One murder every 20 minutes.
And that’s that! Ours pretty much an amalgamation of other murder mysteries we found online. I don’t think it was too complex, but I don’t remember any of my friends’ complaints (if they had any). It’s always easier to stomach dissent when you push it our of your mind immediately.
Our evening was devastating: it was revealed that Ross, ever tall and stoic, was the killer. His spree ended after only three victims thankfully, and we forever remember our friends, Jean, Susie, and Daniel. Justice prevailed, and Ross was taken away by the Carla and both charged and convicted with 1st-degree murder. A pity, considering his brilliant academic work on the barriers to entry in post-secondary education.
Ross is currently held in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, reading books and listening to the screams of his fellow inmates echoing down the halls. He hopes fervently that the deplorable conditions of the Centre will soon be improved following the recommendations from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services task force over the summer of 2016.
Jean’s greasy life was quietly eulogized in the National Post, while celebrations of Susie’s life were held at her popular cafe in Stittsville. Daniel, who had unfortunately died at the beginning of a promising career with the Ottawa RedBlacks, was honoured with a moment of silence at the team’s Grey Cup-winning game in 2016.
I’m hopeful that your murder mystery parties will be quickly sleuthed and solved after one unfortunate death. Or not, because heaven knows it’s way more fun that way. *