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When you host a murder mystery there are three key items to consider: theme, location and interaction. This article explores the things to consider when creating your own murder mystery party.

Theme

While many things like the numbers of people attending and the food are important, it all starts with the theme. Are you looking to host a murder mystery which involves a lot of dressing up? Are your guests likely to go the whole way? Will they work onfinding cowboy hats, waist-coats, gun-holsters and 1890’s dresses for a mystery set in a Western Saloon? Or is a more low key approach better where everyone can be much like themselves? With a couple of small flourishes, would a modern day Hawaiian Luau would work best?

Think about your interest, as well as the things your guests are into. If you are all part of the same swing-dance group, a theme involves the music could be ideal. Create a short list of themes – as you might not find the perfect murder mystery kit for your numbers. That said, being able to narrow down on the theme helps to cut through the myriad of options that all the sellers have. You can instead take on the task of writing your own. That is a whole different subject but it does allow you to customize the experience for your guests.

How to host a murder mystery - have a great theme
How to host a murder mystery – have a great theme. Photo by Aidan Hornsby.

Theme Kits

At Enigmatic Events, we regularly use kits from Freeform Games, sometimes with adjustments made for the particular situation. We have also written our own, as well as working with some talented local writers to create unique experiences. For slightly lighter games, Merri Mysteries have a wide variety of kits for large numbers.

We don’t recommend the standard dinner party kits from the “How to Host a Murder” brand (example here). They are quick and easy to use, but lack depth, especially with the interactions between the characters. They have fewer ‘aha’ moments, and don’t allow as much creativity in the play. Some can feel more like reading out a script than playing a game.

Location

Now you have your theme, and you’ve found the right kit, where are you going to host a murder mystery? If for your friends and family, your house is probably the first choice. A few items can help bring the players into the world of your game. In the summer months, a back garden can double as many things, including the ship’s decks of the USS Libertania, a Hawai’in Beach or even the ground of a spooky castle. You can then consider having a grill going to coincide with the game… though distracting the grill-master with questions might lead to an over-done steak.

Murder At Sea
The suspects on the USS Libertania.

That said, it’s worth considering locations outside the home. For instance, many bars have rooms for hire. Prices can be free, provided you buy enough food and drink. Pubs and bars are also often in interesting buildings, which then tie in with your theme I recommend NOT doing an event in a public place. Too many questions from bystanders can ruin the moment, and not everyone may realize you are playing a game. An argument between two players in the game maybe misunderstood, and you don’t want the police called. Your hosts and any servers need to be informed to know whats going on. .

Other places to consider, if the budget allows, are heritage buildings. Many are available for hire for a few hours, and can add to the ambiance. This leads to better stories about your event. If you can create something people recall weeks, months and years later, you’ve produced something of great value: shared narratives between friends.

Interaction

When you host a murder mystery, the key is that everyone gets a chance to interact. This is a shared game and experience, where everyone takes part, gets involved and tries to find a solution (or get away with it, if your the murderer). The story takes on a life of it’s own, and becomes something that is really yours. So, you’ve found the right theme, and a great location. How do you make sure everyone gets involved?

The rockstar about to get into it with the Tourist.

Involvement doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is talking and being proactive. People can be engaged by observing. One player of game I ran seemed to be relatively passive and not doing much except occasionally speaking in an outrageous French accent about things immaterial to his plot points. Turns out he’d spent the entire night mostly eavesdropping and picking up secrets without knowing people knowing. He got pretty much the murder down – the means, the motive and the culprits. The only element he didn’t discover was, interestingly, the results of an action someone had done early on in the game… as it wasn’t kept secret, everyone assumed everyone else knew about it.

The Host

As the host, part of your job will be to keep the game flowing. Some ways of doing this are to frame the game. Give people the background before they arrive, and then give them an idea of what to expect before you start to play. Try to pick a minor character if you are part of the game (some kits will allow you to play with no knowledge of the answer), and encourage people who are on the outskirts to join in. This can be with just asking them questions, or giving them some information about another player.

Let people know when the game is going to come to a close. A deadline helps sharpen the mind and focus the action in. And make sure after the reveal everyone has a chance to ask questions of each other. The ‘aha’ moment of the solution may take some time to occur, as people may need time to work backwards from the answer to fill in some gaps.

The host calms down Indiana Jones

Host a Murder Mystery

Location and theme all make a memorable event. The interaction is the secret sauce for a great event. With the right levels, people can make new friends after the event is over. They can have an insight into someone else’s personality they may have never seen before. And the very act of playing another role in a safe environment can let people express themselves in new ways, and discover new things about themselves. There’s a branch of Theater Studies dedicated to examining the role of play-acting in personal development.

If you host a murder mystery, and get these elements right, you’ve given your guests a unique experience. And that’s success.

Want to have your own murder mystery night, but don’t want to have to do the preparation and hosting? We can help! Want to host your own, but need some advice on theme and locations? We can help there too! We’ve been doing this for a while now. Email chris@enigmaticevents.com, and we’ll be happy to talk. Or just subscribe and come along to one of our public events!