Planning Your First Murder Mystery Party

Planning your first murder mystery party is very exciting, but it can also put a lot of pressure on a first-time host. There are a lot of moving parts in these types of parties and it’s easy to get confused. As the host, you have the freedom to decorate and play out your murder mystery in any way that you feel works best. You can give your home a historical look or a menacing one. You can add very detailed features to your home, or simply dim the lights and let a music soundtrack create the atmosphere. It’s an exciting experience right from the start. You’ll need to select a good murder mystery, create and send out themed murder mystery invitations, think up some decorating ideas for your murder mystery, choose which friends take on which characters, etc. Your friends aren’t just guests, they are a part of the story, so you’ll want to choose the right people for every role. You may choose to know who the killer is beforehand, or want to be surprised like everyone else. Knowing or not knowing this information will also change the way your approach your planning.

I’ve noticed that more and more people have been trying out murder mysteries. In fact, there are more companies popping up around the world that host murder mystery dinners due to the high demand. Of course, those types of events have to be fully scripted in order for them to work out correctly, but the ones you throw at home can be as spontaneous as you like. If you want all of your guests to stick to a particular dress theme, you could go with one of the classics like a 1920s murder mystery. And if you want a bit more color and attitude, you can choose a murder mystery where everyone dresses up as something different. The type of mystery you choose will also be based on how many friends you’d like to attend. While most kits can accommodate about 8 people, you can get others that have up to 20 characters to work with. Large parties do require a lot more work and preparation, so it’s best to start smaller.

Understanding the Basics of a Murder Mystery Party

A murder mystery party is very interactive. Your guests are going to be a major part in the story and involved in solving the murder. The conversations could be completely scripted or improvised from general cues (which is the type I prefer most), and everyone will have a character that they will need to play. These characters will all have unique backgrounds, talking points and secrets. Throughout the night, your friends will need to chat with each other and ask the right questions to find out who had motive and opportunity to commit the murder.

In most games, the killer is set in stone. The clues and evidence will eventually point you in their direction. In others, the killer is randomly chosen and everyone will have 2 sets of scripted lines to say. The innocent suspects will all read from their innocent dialogue, while the guilty person will only read from their guilty dialogue. It’ll be up to all the innocent people to notice discrepancies in the guilty person’s story. Most good murder mystery stories will have some twists and turns, and some false leads to misdirect you. A game usually lasts from 2-4 hours, so food and drink is provided by the host.

Your role as the host is the most important part of the party. You are responsible for organizing every last detail and ensuring that the night plays out smoothly. You are, more often than not, also the narrator of the backstory. You’ll explain the fictional reason that everyone is at your house, and give them the rules of that particular murder mystery. You can also play as a character if you choose too.

Selecting a Murder Mystery Kit

A good murder mystery kit will come with everything you need to run your party. It will include the story plot, character descriptions, scripts for each person (if it’s a scripted event) or talking points (if it’s improvised), invitations, award certificates, etc. There are a lot of different themes available. It’s important that you find something that your guests will enjoy. While I might be more interested in a 1920s-themed night, I know my friends would prefer something more modern. The theme of your party will influence the costumes that guests need to buy, the decorations you’ll need to purchase, and sometimes even the food that you’ll serve. Some kits are also very advanced and may not be a good fit for first-timers.

One of the biggest considerations will be how many people you intend to invite. Murder mystery kits have a set number of characters that they can cater for, so you’ll need to find one that can include all the friends you want to invite. You’ll also want to consider time constraints. My friends all have children at home and can’t stay out too late. I prefer shorter murder mysteries that still give us a little time to chat afterward before ending the night. If your group wants to invest a whole Saturday to the event, then you may want to purchase a more complex kit.

You’ll also need to look at the roles that your friends will need to cover. Some roles are designed for male players and some for female. Their clothing and dialogue options are designed in such a way that it can be difficult or confusing when someone of the opposite gender tries to take over that role. Our murder mystery Shadows Over Shrouded Island uses unisex names, clothing and bios for every character, so anyone can play as any character.

Preparing Invitations and the Guest List

The friends you choose to invite will affect every aspect of the night. It’s their unique personalities that shape how the game will turn out. You’ll want to look closely at each of their personalities when matching them up with characters from the murder mystery. Some characters have wild personas that would match better with your more extroverted friends. If I host a murder mystery party where multiple people are killed, I like to make my most outspoken friends take those roles – as they’ll have to play out their death scene for a crowd. Your aim should be to match people to characters in ways that will make them comfortable, while still making it entertaining. Some murder mysteries have relationships between characters that you’ll need to take into account when matching people. It’s always a good idea to match partners together to avoid additional drama. The murder mysteries that we create at Print Mysteries never have any romantic relationships between characters to avoid this pitfall completely.

Invitations are usually provided with your murder mystery kit. They’ll be themed, so you’ll just need to fill out your friends names in them. You could also add a little bit of the backstory to the invitation to give them an idea of what the night will involve. Invitations used to be posted to friends, but that’s no longer the case. If you’re using a digitally downloaded murder mystery, you can simply email or Whatsapp your invitations to your guests. Make sure that you include their individual character sheets so that they have time to prepare their costume. You should print out the character sheets, so you can hand them out on the night. You never know if your electronics will fail you.

Setting Up the Venue

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of the properly decorate your murder mystery. You’ll want to focus in on your theme to decide what you’ll need. If you’re doing one of the classic 1920s SpeakEasy events, you’ll want jazz-era decor – feather boas, pearl strings, art deco designs. You’ll also want the lights dimmed to help set the right tone. While if you’re running something more modern, you can use wanted posters, and newspaper clippings as decorations.

You can also use props in your decoration scheme. Mysterious letters and themed artwork come to mind. They may be directly related to the murder, or perhaps just give some backstory to the events. If you’re using a kit that you’ve bought digitally, it’s usually very easy to convert clues and evidence into props for your event. You’ll simply need to print them out the right type of paper, and dirty them up a little.

Planning Your First Murder Mystery Party

You’ll also want to arrange the playing space for better interactions. You’ll want to use a comfortable area for your friends to mingle and discuss clues. This can be seated or standing, but must be large enough to accommodate everyone. You can arrange small groups of chairs spread out around the room, allowing guests to have private conversations away from the person they suspect.

Costumes and Props

Costumes are one the most fun things about murder mysteries. Everyone will find a way to incorporate their personality into their costume. The more work people put into their costumes, the more depth they’ll generally put into their roles. It adds authenticity to the event. Your murder mystery kit will provide a costume ideas for each one of your guests. You’ll want to check with your friends if they are happy with the clothing choices, as it could become expensive if there are a lot of items to buy. You’ll also want to be flexible on what guests can wear. The costume recommendations are just a guide. Your friends will have a lot more fun if they have the freedom to adjust to their own tastes.

If you want to remain budget-conscious, there are lots of ways to obtain costumes without spending too much. Thrift shops are a treasure trove for finding costumes for murder mystery parties. There are always pieces that can be adapted to fit your theme. Party stores are another cheap way to get costumes. Some murder mysteries have doctors and firefighters as characters. These types of costumes can be found in party stores and may even be discounted when it’s not Halloween. Take some time to check out local stores before sending out invites, as you’ll be the first call for costume advice.

Another option is to repurpose some of your other clothes. A simple black dress can be used as a 1920s flapper dress, if you wear a headband and some pearls with it. Changing your makeup or hairstyle can also change your entire look for free. A worn-out scientist could be conveyed with a Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown (Back to the Future) styled hairstyle.

Organizing the Game Play

As the host, you’ll be in charge of guiding your friends through the storyline and ensuring that everything else runs smoothly as well. You’ll want to read every last page of your murder mystery kit to know the story inside out – the plot, characters and timeline of events. This will help you to answer any questions that might arise before and during the party. You may also need to provide hints to guests if you see that their suspicions are way off track.

When everyone arrives, you’ll begin with a clear introduction on why everyone is gathered there. This info is all provided in your kit and will set the scene for everyone. You’ll then run through the ground rules. These are different for every game. You’ll start the game immediately after and generally follow a timeline provided with your kit. You’ll need to ensure that the game progresses at a steady pace to maintain the excitement of events, as well as ensuring that it doesn’t run too late. You can also walk the room engaging with characters to make them feel more comfortable.

Events don’t always play out exactly the way you want them too. This is something that you’ll learn to expect. Players sometimes deviate from the script, or give out info that they should have kept secret. This often leads to the most memorable moments of the night. You should encourage your friends to fully embrace their character for better or for worse. This will lead to lots of spontaneous and funny moments. However, if dialogue gets too far off track, you might need to nudge the conversation back on course. You can do this by suddenly finding another clue or quickly adding additional information that you’ve “just remembered”. Your participation and enthusiasm will be the catalyst that drives everyone else.

You may also want to have your smartphone camera permanently open to snap up memories of the night. The passage of time moves differently when you’re having fun, and the night will be over before you know it. If you can get some help from someone for photo/video footage, it’ll give you more free time to focus on the party.

Food and Beverage Considerations

If you’re going to spend hours chatting and solving clues, you’re going to grow an appetite. Food can also be another way to enhance the theme of your party. For instance – if I were holding a 1920s party, I could serve cocktails, canapés or deviled eggs. If my party were fairy tale themed, then I could throw in some “poisoned” candy apples or a gingerbread house. Another fun idea is to make simple finger foods, but give them spooky or mysterious names.

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You’ll also want to choose between a full meal or finger foods. I prefer the finger food buffet option as you’ll spend less time warming food and clearing plates. A table with mixed food and some paper plates will leave you free to focus on other aspects of the game.

If you’re hosting a lot of people, you might want to look into using a catering service. Some caterers even offer customized menus based on your party’s theme. They will provide the food at the start of the evening, and remove all the plates and cutlery at the end of the night – leaving you with no washing up to do.

Planning Your First Murder Mystery Party

Planning your first murder mystery party will be a very memorable experience. The skills you learn now will make every additional party easier to handle and less stressful from the start.The first time might go a little off the rails, but that only makes it more fun. As long as the atmosphere is light and everyone is having fun, then your party is a success. You’ll need to adjust to any unexpected situations and keep the atmosphere lively. And if you follow these tips your murder mystery party is set to be an unforgettable evening for everyone.