Hosting Successful Murder Mystery Parties

Murder mystery parties are becoming more and more popular.

Having hosted a number in the past, I'd like to share what I consider to be the main ingredients for a highly successful and thoroughly enjoyable evening.

I hope the following information will also help reduce some of the stress and anxiety associated with being the host of murder mystery parties.

After all, you want to have a great time as well.

Firstly – and I think crucially – make sure that you only invite people to murder mystery parties who are going to become really involved in the fun.

Everyone present needs to play their parts enthusiastically. They don’t have to be wonderful actors, just willing to forget their inhibitions and pretend to be somebody else for a few hours. And you will know which of your guests will relish playing a character who has quite a bit to say and do, and which would prefer a smaller, insignificant role.

The host will necessarily be central to the plot and must have the confidence and authority to keep everything moving smoothly. It is all too easy for people to forget that the main purpose of the evening (or weekend) is to unmask the dastardly villain who has committed the crime. It is not to stand at the drinks table discussing what was on TV last night!

Secondly, get a good ‘script.’ One of the reasons I started writing and hosting my own murder mystery parties is that I had attended one or two events and found them - well, quite frankly, rubbish. I hasten to add that this had nothing to do with the host, rather the storylines, which were full of holes and the ‘clues’ so obscure as to be worthless. Even when everything had been explained, I usually still didn’t know what it was all about.

I like to make sure that it is possible to discover the villain by taking note of the clues, asking questions of the other protagonists and piecing it all together. Although there will be several suspects, of course, only the guilty person should fill the bill.

Another thing that I think greatly adds to the enjoyment and atmosphere of murder mystery parties is setting them in period costume. People who like this sort of thing tend to enjoy dressing up and getting the outfit ready is often a large part of the fun.

And it’s amazing how much trouble people are prepared to take. One of my murder mystery detective games features a 1920’s station master. The first time I hosted it, the man playing that part had not only acquired the correct uniform but had also managed to find a small (genuine) official badge and grown bushy side whiskers! And a woman guest at one do, normally a glamorous blonde, let her roots grow out to play a down-on-her- luck type. Dedication indeed!

Of course, most people make do with false moustaches, wigs and quite often home-made costumes However, do give your guests sufficient time to prepare for the evening, particularly if it is to be a costume affair.

As I said, a lot of people like to really ‘go to town’ with their outfits (I always include a rough idea of what the character would be wearing, but of course it’s entirely up to the person playing the part to decide how to dress.)

I would give the invitations out at least six weeks prior to the event, especially if it is taking place at a time when fancy dress is in big demand e.g. New Year. And do tell all your guests to keep their characters a secret – even from partners or spouses! It really gets the party off to a great start if nobody knows who anybody else is until the last minute.

I personally don’t like nametags – let the guests get to know who everybody is by circulating and asking questions – it’s a great icebreaker for murder mystery parties.

Murder mystery parties are better when they include a buffet meal rather than a sitting-round-the table affair. The main reason being that the host is more able to concentrate on the action, knowing that the food is pre-prepared and ready for the guests to help themselves at the right time. I know many a murder mystery dinner is specifically written for a sit-down meal, but I’ve yet to attend a really good one. The murder mystery game always seems to come a poor second to the meal itself.

Again, this is a personal preference, but I like to give one prize only - to the super sleuth who unmasks the criminal. Some people give prizes for best costume, best performance etc. but I like to concentrate the guests’ competitive instincts on being the best detective!

Let your guests know in advance that they will be competing for the Poirot-Marple cup or shield, upon which the name of the winner will be engraved. My previous winners have basked in the glory of being crowned best detective, however, they have to hand the cup or shield back before the next murder mystery dinner night, when their title is on the line and once again the game's afoot.

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