Write your own murder mystery game - part 2 - the characters

The characters will make or break your murder mystery game.  There’s no point having a thrilling setting and theme or clever murder plots if your characters are dull and lifeless.  By now, you should know how many characters you want in your game, how many are male and how many are female and an idea of how they are related to each other.

In developing the characters, we focus on:

* Personalities
* Secrets
* Costumes
* Names
* Introductions

I always put names near the bottom of the list as often, I like to give them a funny name which has something to do with their job, personality, the theme, etc.  Often these funny names will come to you as you write the character details so it’s best to add them in later rather than starting there.  If you already have a name in mind for the character, of course you can give it to them straight away, however if not, you could call them character 1, character 2, etc. until you make a final decision on names.

In this section, we are going to focus purely on Personalities and Secrets as these sections are rather large.


A character’s personality profile is what really brings them to life.  You want to go for a wide range of personalities that are designed to complement some characters whilst conflicting with others.  Think about including bullies, shyness, charisma, intellectuals, jealous types, gold diggers, thugs, people in positions of authority / religion, etc.  If you get stuck, look around you at the people you know in your life.  Now I’m not suggesting you base any characters on people you actually know, but if you look at people at work, friends, family, acquaintances, people on television, etc. you will see a wide range of personality styles.  Reality T.V shows are a great place to research personalities!

You will want to make some characters really annoying, others really interesting, some exciting, others maybe dull.  The choice is yours.  All I would recommend is that you have a good mix which will cause drama and excitement during the game.  You don’t want to make the personalities too restrictive.  You want to allow the player a chance to interpret the personality themselves and play it in a manner of their choosing. 

When writing your characters personality profiles, use the “Ideas” Microsoft Word sheet you started in the first part to jot down all the details.  This allows you to keep all the character details in one place for now so you can compare them and change them around as needed.  Below you can find an example of a character personality profile from one of my games to help you:



* Kind and generous to Iva but guarded and secretive about his past

* Gets on well with everyone but is always on the lookout for anyone who offends his sister.
* Loves talking about electronics and gadgets
* Treats the staff like they are human beings, not servants like some of the other VIP’s do.

You are a real gentleman, always trying to be nice to everyone and treating people with respect.  People mistake your benevolence for weakness at their own peril though as you are more than capable of defending your honour and that of anyone around you.  If anyone is unkind to your sister, Iva, you immediately come to her rescue.  If anyone accuses you of murder, you just laugh it off and tell them that they are entitled to their opinions.


Character Secrets

Character secrets are another essential element to a great murder mystery game.  Without any secrets, there are no motives for murder!  As a general guideline, you want each character to have enough secrets to keep other players interested and investigating, but not too many that things become complicated!  Usually, for each character I would give them 2 big secrets and 1 smaller secret.  Usually one of the bigger secrets would become the motive for murder and the smaller secret just something they are embarrassed about which could become something for other players to bribe them / hold them to ransom over. 

A character’s secret doesn’t have to be something to do directly with them.  It could be something they know about another character.  E.g. if your character was aware that another character was dealing in drugs, but they weren’t buying, selling or taking any themselves, it would still count as a secret.

When it comes to characters secrets, you need to think about the ways in which other players might discover these secrets during the game.  E.g. If there was a character involved in bribery or corruption and no other character was aware of this secret, the chances are, it wouldn’t get found out during the murder mystery game and so the secret would be pointless.  Usually I like to have at least one other character aware of another character’s secret.  E.g. if two characters were having a secret affair, a 3rd character might catch them in the act, or see them sneaking off together regularly or hire a private detective to find out what was happening, etc.

When getting inspiration for character secrets, for the smaller secrets, keep in mind those small things which may cause an individual a lot of embarrassment, but not be a major issue in the grand scheme of things, e.g.:

* Failing an exam and claiming they passed
* Passing off a shop brought meal as their own creation
* Getting arrested for a minor offence
* Missing an important event / birthday, etc.
* Calling someone by the wrong name

There is a never ending list of small, minor secrets which could bring shame to an individual.  You should tie these small secrets in with their personalities, e.g. an arrogant man wouldn’t be bothered by calling someone the wrong name, but would be bothered by failing an exam.

In terms of the major secrets, think about reasons for murder, e.g.:

* Drugs
* Money
* Jealousy
* Love / Passion
* Hatred
* Bribery
* Possessing something illegal
* Counterfeiting
* Theft
* Arrested for major offences.

If you are stuck for inspiration, television soap operas are often full of compelling character secrets.  Again, I am not telling you to copy from others, just use the ideas as inspiration.  You should again write down each characters “secret information” on your “ideas” Microsoft Word sheet so that everything is all in one place for now. 

Below you can find an example of a characters secret information from one of my games:

“Ben’s biggest secret is that he is Iva Drinks long lost older brother and used to go by the name Benjamin Drink.  When they were children, Benjamin and Iva’s parents severely neglected them.  Their parents were constantly drunk and preferred spending money on alcohol and cigarettes rather than even the basic essentials such as food and heating.  When Benjamin started part time work at 13, they started taking his wages off him and beating him if he stood up to them.  One night just after he turned 16, Benjamin had a huge row with his parents and ended up fleeing the country after they threatened to kill him in his sleep.  He moved to Switzerland where he was taken in by a foster family.  Although he changed his surname to Igma, which was that of his new family, he kept his first name, Ben, so that he would always remember where he came from. 

He soon joined his foster father in a job at an electronics factory and once there, found his calling.  He went on to invent and design many new and powerful circuits for computers and televisions which made him rich and powerful. 

Despite his fame and fortune, he still regrets the fact that he left his younger sister Iva behind when he fled from Britain.  He wanted to come back home many times, especially after hearing the news that their parents had died in a house fire, but he knew that Iva would never forgive him for running out on her.  He now desperately wants to make things right again with Iva and has used a private detective to track her down.  He was most upset at seeing her working in a bar dressed in next to nothing with the men all leering at her.  He has a particular problem with Goaler Keeper who he has seen try and grope his sister many times whilst she was serving him drinks. 

Although he has spoken to Iva several times tonight, he is sure that she does not recognise him.  Ben has been reluctant to reveal his true identity to Iva at least until she knows him better.  Ben has been trying to help her out by chatting to her nicely and giving her large tips but now it appears as though he has given her the wrong signals.  His own sister has started flirting with him! 

He is glad to see that Iva is still wearing her half of a distinctive broken heart pendant that he brought for her when they were young.  Ben has the other half of the pendant and when they are combined, they form a complete heart.  Ben always wears his around his neck and is considering showing it to Iva so she will know who he is.  She is not the only one flirting with him though, Pearl Swayder has taken a liking to him after finding out how much he is worth and won’t take no for an answer. 

Ben is currently on strong medication for a serious infection he picked up and so is not allowed to drink any alcohol at all, otherwise he risks a very bad reaction”.


So in this section we have looked at character personality profiles and secret information.  I hope you have fun beginning to develop your characters!  In the next section, we continue with the character developments, looking at costumes, names and character introductions.