Write your own murder mystery game - Part 7 - The killers

To begin this part of your murder mystery game, I usually begin by allocating each character a secret number.  So if you have 10 characters in your game, each will be given a different number between 1 and 10.  Open up each players Character Pack (see part 5 of this guide) and on page 3 of each pack, write that characters Secret number.  Finally, on your “ideas” file, write each character’s name and their secret number next to their name. 

The next step is to create the maps of the venue.  These maps do not have to be anything elaborate, just a basic outline showing all the rooms of the venue on all the floors.  I usually draw these in Microsoft Powerpoint and then save them as a JPG file.  You can find an example in Microsoft Powerpoint by following this link: http://www.murdermysterypartygame.co.uk/information      

There are two reasons why these maps are important.  Firstly, as you decide who kills who at what time, you can ensure that the timings all work for the characters.  E.g. you don’t want the killer committing the crime in one room and then later a witness report saying they saw the killer at the same time in another part of the venue.  The second reason is for the guests.  During their investigation of the murder, it can be extremely useful for them to work out where certain characters are at what time, who didn’t have any alibis at the time of the murder and any inconsistencies in their movements.

You then need to decide who murders who.  My games are unique in that any character can be the murderer.  This means that you need to go through each character and select a victim to go with each person.  As you have been going through writing your character profiles and secrets, you probably have an idea of who is going to kill who and the reason why.  I always recommend that you don’t make the killer obvious, but you don’t make it too hard either. 

E.g. if character A is married to character B but A is having an affair with character C, it may be too obvious for B to murder C or A.  So you may want B’s best friend or close relative to murder C or A instead.

On your “ideas” sheet, write down each characters’ name, followed by their victims’ name.  Then write down a brief description of the time the murder took place, the room, the method of killing and a brief reason why.  Transfer each killer and victim’s names to your map of the venue along with the time of the murder.  This is for your benefit only to help you plan alibis, etc. and these details should be removed from the maps before playing the game.

If you are struggling for motives, as a general rule, the reasons people kill are:

  • Jealousy

  • Money

  • Drugs

  • Self-defence

  • Revenge

  • Accidental (e.g. fights which get out of hand, etc.)

  • Love

When thinking about the methods of how one person kills another, it is helpful to consider the difference between men, women, old, young, etc. in terms of strength and aggression.  When thinking about the choice of murder weapons, again you don’t want to make it too obvious.  So if one character wears a scarf which becomes the murder weapon, the character who owns the scarf shouldn’t be the killer as that would be too obvious.    

The location of each murder at the venue is also important.  E.g. if the venue was a house and the murder took place in the wine cellar, who would have reason to be down there, who would know that it exists, etc. 

Once you are clear in your head which character kills which, where, how and why, go back to your ideas file where you wrote each characters secret number against their name.  In a third column, write the character name they murder, e.g.

Character      Secret Number         Kills

Mr. A                          1                        Mrs. C

 Finally, you need to create the scenario slips.  I again prefer to use Microsoft Powerpoint and then save as a JPG file but you can use any drawing programme.  The scenario slips are used as a random way of selecting who the murderer and victim are going to be at the start of the game.  You need one scenario slip for each character.  On the first slip, write 1 murders ?.  1 represents the character that has secret number 1 and the ? is replaced by secret number of the victim.  So in the example above, if Mr. A has secret number 1 and he kills Mrs. C who is secret number 5, that scenario slip would read “1 murders 5”.  This means that if this slip was selected at the beginning of the game, Mr. A would know he is the murderer and Mrs C would know she was the victim, but every other player would remain unaware. 

So by now on your ideas file, you should have the brief details of which character murders which, the motive, the method, the place and the time.  You should also have maps of the venue and scenario slips for each character.  In the next part of our guide, we will be looking at writing the character confessions!

Writing your own Murder Mystery Game - Part 6 - The Hosts Information Pack

So by now, most of your character packs should be complete.  What is missing is any information about the murder which is where the host’s information pack comes in.  As its name suggests, the host’s information pack is used by whoever is hosting the game to give the details surrounding the murder.

By following this link, you can download an example Host’s information pack for my game “Halloween Horror”.  The first page has a picture / title on it the same as the character packs and then there is the game setting / theme paragraph followed by two pages of information for the host on how to set up and play the game.  In your Host’s Information Pack, put in your own picture / title page and game setting / theme paragraph and then copy and paste everything else up to the end of the “Character Behaviours” paragraph.  You then need to go back and amend several parts depending on your game specifics.

In the “Introduction for the host” paragraph, change the number of minimum and maximum players to reflect your game.  The maximum players is however many characters your game has, however you can choose the minimum number.  Usually it is best to go for 4 to 5 players less than your maximum amount (unless you have a low number to start with such as 6 players, in which case you may go for 1 or 2 less than your maximum amount). 

If someone wanted to play your game with the minimum number of characters, decide which characters they would need to leave out (try to make it some of the lesser characters, never one of the central ones), and then write their names at the bottom of the second paragraph of the “Introduction for the Host” section. 

Go through the rest of the “Introduction for the Host” section and amend any reference to player numbers to match the player numbers in your game. 

Finally, go through the “Order of the Party” section.  On the 3rd point down, change the name “Ralph Mendez” to the main character name in your game. 

On page 4 on the Hosts Information Pack template provided, you will see a template for “If 1 is the Murderer” followed on page 5 by “1’s confession”.  All the writing in blue on these pages is information only for the host (so not read out to the players).  The actual details of the crime and confession will be inserted in black writing at a later point.  For now though, you need to copy and paste these pages to make enough for however many characters you have in the game.  Put them in numerical order so the all the “If ? is the Murderer” goes first followed by all the “?’s Confession” after. 

E.g. if you have 10 characters, you want “If 1 is the murderer” followed immediately by “If 2 is the murderer” then “If 3 is the murderer” all the way up to “If 10 is the murderer”.  That would then be followed by “1’s Confession”, “2’s Confession”, 3’s Confession” all the way up to “10’s Confession”.

Finally, go down to the “Extra Character Statements” on the final page before the diagrams start.  Amend the names here to the character names you want left out of the game should the host only have the minimum amount of players available (as we looked at in paragraph 3 above). 

You then need to write the extra character statements for each of these characters so that they can be read out to the players at the appropriate time.  The aim of this is so that any important information that a character is holding can still be heard by the rest of the players, even if that character is not taking part in the game.  So in my example pack, Daniel Umpire may have a vital clue somewhere which could lead to the murderers identity, but as he may not be in the game due to lack of numbers, his information would be lost if it weren’t for these extra character statements. 

The Extra Character Statements should be made up primarily of the characters conversation starters, but some of the secret information can be included as well if that character is the only one who knows something about it.  Writing the extra character statements is quite a balancing act.  You want to be able to give enough information without giving too much away and making it too easy for the other players.  Play around with it for a while and see what works for you!

Below the “extra character statements”, you will see 6 pages of diagrams (3 maps, scenario slips, fake money and suspect sheets).  Ignore these for now and we will come onto them more in the next part.

So, now you should have your Hosts Information template set up waiting for the details of each murder, the confessions and the diagrams to go with it.  In the next part of our guide, we will be looking at deciding who murders who and the diagrams. 

Writing your own murder mystery game - Part 3 - The Characters Continued

By now your characters should be coming on well and all have secrets and personalities written for them.  To finish off your characters, you now need to create costume suggestions, character names, secret tasks and character introductions, all of which we are going to be covering in this section.

As before, write all your character information in your “Ideas” file for the time being.  This keeps everything all in one place, allowing you to check information and change different aspects of each character easily and quickly.

 

Costume Suggestions

This is where you can have a bit of fun.  Using each characters personality profile and background information as a guide, come up with a brief costume for them.  For example, if a character was a top lawyer who was confident to the point of arrogant, you may suggest a suit and tie, black shoes and carrying a briefcase.  Maybe they even wear a pair of sunglasses.  However if they were an unemployed hippy, you may go for a wacky coloured shirt with shorts and sandals.  If you are theming the party around anything in particular, e.g. Halloween, you may want to make all the costumes fancy dress. 

With the costume suggestions, you can let your imagination run wild as long as the costume goes with the characters personality profile.

 

Character Names

We’ve already briefly touched on character names.  By this point, you will probably have many names already in mind.  Any names are perfectly fine, however I always suggest funny and memorable names that have something to do with your theme.  E.g. If you have an Egyptian theme, you may want names such as Cleo Patra or Prya Mid, or a mother with the nickname Mummy, etc. 

You may want to have names with have relevance to the characters profession or life, e.g. one of the characters in my game “Crisis at the College” is a teacher called Theobold Teachalot or a character in “Bumped off at the BBQ” is called Paul Queue (who happens to be an excellent snooker and pool player!).

As with the costume suggestions, you can have a great time with character names.  Come up with things unusual, original and unique, something which will make people laugh and something they will remember for a long time! 

 

Secret Tasks

The secret tasks are one of the unique elements in my games.  They are there to add a bit of fun and a new dimension to the party.  As their name suggests, the secret tasks must be kept secret by each player.  They should only reveal them at the very end of the game when instructed to by the host (more details to come in future posts about the hosts duties). 

The secret tasks should not be connected to the murder in any way but should be connected somehow to the characters personality or lifestyle.  The secret tasks should be made as funny and entertaining as possible but not to the point of embarrassing or humiliating any of your guests.

For example, if you have a character who is a magician, they may want to show magic tricks during the party which always go wrong in some funny way.  You may have a top businessman who gives everyone bizarre and funny tips to other players on how to make themselves more of a success.  Or you may have a fashion expert who tries to give weird and funny fashion advice to people. 

One of my favourites is to have one character who can never be the murderer and to set them the secret task of making other players suspect them without actually admitting to it, e.g. by being hesitant, looking nervous, etc.  The more people who then accuse them of murder, the better they do. 

If you are stuck for secret tasks, I sometimes like to bring fake money into the game (especially if the theme of the game revolves around gambling, etc.).  Give people a certain amount of fake money at the beginning of the game.  You can then set three or four characters the same secret task of making as much money as they can off the other players.  This may be asking for donations for a fake charity, seeking investors for an unusual business idea, through bribery, theft, etc.  Again, whatever way they try and get the money must stay in the bounds of the character personality profile you wrote for them. 

At the end of the murder mystery party, once the host has asked everyone to reveal their secret task, prizes can then be awarded to the person or people who have performed the best.     

 

Character Introduction

At the beginning of the murder mystery party, each player needs to give a few lines of introduction to their character.  This is purely so that the other players know who they are and a little about what they do and who they’re related to.  It is entirely up to you how you introduce each character.  It should reflect their personality and may highlight any characters they particularly like / dislike but apart from that, you have free reign.  Below I have pasted two examples from my game “Halloween Horror”.

“Hello, I am Adam from next door and I have been friends with Kelly and Samuel ever since they moved here about five years ago.  I work for myself as a property developer and enjoy being my own boss.  Being divorced as well, I can work when I like, take holidays when I like and not have to answer to anyone.  I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to come tonight, but Kelly managed to persuade me, like she always does (wink at Kelly).”

“Okay let’s get this over with, I am Amy, Samuel and Kelly’s 16 year old daughter.  Well, I don’t really have to say a lot, I’m sure my parents will fill you in on what a disappointment I am to them.  Still, at least I have a few mates who I like hanging around with, one of them, Amanda is here tonight.  My parents don’t like Amanda, but that makes me like her even more.  I wonder what we can do tonight to annoy my parents!” 

 

Your “Ideas” Sheet

In your “ideas” Microsoft word file, you should now have written down your theme / setting for your murder mystery party and then each characters details.  We are almost ready to transfer the character detail across to the individual character packs and just need to add in the “Conversation Starters” which we will look at in Part 4 of these blog posts. 

Before that however, we just need to review and rearrange the information in the “ideas” file so far.  So go through your Ideas sheet and rearrange the information so that you have:

Character 1

  • Character Name

  • Character Introduction

  • Character Secrets

  • Character Personality

  • Costume Suggestions

  • Secret Task   

 

Character 2 

  • Character Name

  • Character Introduction

  • Character Secrets

  • Character Personality

  • Costume Suggestions

  • Secret Task   

     

    Keep going in this format for all your characters.  Now review all of your character information to make sure that it all makes sense.  Pay particular attention to the Character Secrets.  As we discussed in the last post, each characters secrets must be known by at least one other character otherwise it can never be discovered.  Once you have reviewed each character and rearranged everything as per the above order, we are ready to move on!

     

In Part 4, we will be looking at “Setting the theme” and “Conversation Starters”.  As always, if you have any questions or anything you are not sure about, please get in touch!

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.

Personalities

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:

 

YOUR CHARACTERS PERSONALITY

* 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.

Ultimate Murder Mystery Games - Who we are!

Welcome to our new blog page!  We thought a good place to start would be to introduce ourselves.  My name is Gareth Sammer and I am the main author and creator of Ultimate Murder Mystery Party Games.  I live in London and have been writing murder mystery games since 2006.

As a teenager, I remember playing a murder mystery game at school, which was followed a few years later by a weekend murder mystery trip with my family.  I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, the fun of trying to catch people out, discovering those hidden secrets and trying to solve the murder. 

Over the years, my family bought several murder mystery games to play at home, and although we still had a lot of fun, I felt there was something missing.  The games ended so abruptly and lacked a certain spark.  I was also frustrated by the knowledge that we could only play the game once before people would know who the murderer was.  Spending all that money on a game that could only be played once didn't seem worth it somehow. 

I began to think about creating my own game for my family and friends to play, one that would combine all the fun elements of a traditional murder mystery, along with that something extra.  My first game, Murder at Ewe Tree Hall, came in late 2006.  Not only had I devised a simple and effective way to change the murderer and victim each time the game was played, but I had also reduced the amount of boring scripts, given characters their own personalities to play to and introduced secret tasks to add another dimension to the game. 

Ewe Tree Hall was an immediate success with my family and friends and after several revisions of the game, I began working on my next game, "Serving up a Murder".  It wasn't until we were playing my third game, "Crisis at the College" that a friend suggested I tried selling my games.  I was a bit reluctant at first, not knowing if they were good enough for the general public, but the feedback from everyone who had played the games so far was positive. 

In 2008, I completed work on a fourth game, "Bet on Your Life?" and began selling all the games through ebay and through my own website.  And just like that, Ultimate Murder Mystery Games was formed! 

To date, we have now sold over 1800 games across the world, including America and Australia.  We now have 9 murder mystery games in total with a 10th, New Years Eve themed party in production along with 2 children's themed games.   

Although still a small operation, all of the feedback we have received from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive.  We are looking to bring on board new writers this year and work more closely with party suppliers to offer our customers a much wider range of party options.  So keep tuned for more soon!