Casting a Freeform Games murder mystery game

Casting can be a dark art, so I thought I’d share how I recently cast The Karma Club and Death in Venice.

I ran both of these games during 2020, and both were held online using Discord. As with much of 2020, everything was done online—including casting.

Death in Venice – using Discord

What is casting?

Casting your murder mystery game means deciding who get to play which character.

This can be tricky, because everyone is different.

We include casting information in our casting table (at least, with our newer games—we are updating our older games to include this table). This highlights potentially problematic issues, such as where romantic or family relationships exist, and who the murderer is (not everyone wants to play the murderer).

This assumes that you know your guests. If you don’t know who will be coming, or you only know some, or you don’t know them that well, then the casting table is of limited use…

Form or not to form

For The Karma Club and Death in Venice, I used a Google Form for casting. I did this so the players could let me know who they were interested in playing. (And I hadn’t met some players, so didn’t know them very well.) Many of my players play a live-action roleplaying games and it’s normal for those to have simple casting forms.

Using a form made casting easy—I would do it for all games in the future.

My casting form

I created a form using Google Forms (you could use a Microsoft Form instead, or do it via email). At the top of the form I wrote a brief introduction:

This is the casting questionnaire for The Karma Club online game.

Please note that I will try and cast you according to your preferences, but I may not be able to give everyone their preferred role.

Also note that the characters have hidden secrets, and few are what they appear on the surface.

I need your email address as I am using Google Drive to manage items and money, and I need to share the folders with you. I won’t share your email address with anyone else.

For Death in Venice I changed the third and fourth paragraphs to say: Also note that I haven’t read the full game and I don’t know the game secrets or characters – that’s because I’m going to play as well. However, I expect the characters have hidden secrets, and some may not be what they appear on the surface.

I need your email address so I can send you the character sheets.

I used these fields for the form:

  • Your email address
  • Your name
  • Your gender
  • Do you mind playing a gender other than your own? (I don’t think this will be an issue, but just in case.)
  • Of the characters listed, which three appeal to you most? (This then listed the characters in the order that they are in the game cast list, with those details. The first selection was “I don’t mind who I play”.)
  • Of the characters listed above, are there any that you really don’t want to play? (This was just a free text field rather than another list. Sometimes it’s more important to know who someone doesn’t want to play.)
  • Is there anything else you’d like me to consider when casting you? (This is so your guests can tell you if they don’t want to be the murderer, or don’t want to be involved in a romantic plot, and so on. Although as it’s a free text field, you may get some odd requests.)
  • I would like to share online a screenshot/photo of the game being played. Are you happy for me to include you in the photo?

As an example of what that looks like, here’s my Death in Venice casting form.

Flagging contentious issues

Some of our games contain contentious subject matter—such as characters having an affair, or involving magic or the occult. I dealt with those when advertising the game to new players, but I could also have flagged that up in the casting questionnaire.

Issuing the casting form

A Heroic Death – online

Once you’ve created the form, Google provides several ways of sharing it (I imagine Microsoft Forms does the same). You can use a link, or email it out, or embed it as html in a web-page. As I used Facebook to organise my games, I sent all my players a link.

I sent the casting form link to the players about two weeks before the game, hoping that I would get everything back so I could cast and send character sheets out a week in advance. I had to nag one or two guests, but I kept to that timetable.

Using the results to cast the form

Once you have the results, it’s time to assign characters to players. Google provides the results in a spreadsheet so you can work with the data.

  • First, I looked for characters that only one person wanted to play. I cast them first.
  • Then I looked people who said that they didn’t want to play a character, and cast them.
  • Then, I looked at popular characters and cast them.
  • Finally use the people who don’t mind playing any character to fill in the gaps.

Tip – if you’re also playing a character (if you’re running and playing Death in Venice, for example), then I recommend being flexible in who you play.

With luck you can give everyone what they want – but if you can’t then I suggest contacting those players and manage their expectations.

Sending out the results

Finally, you need to tell everyone who they are playing. With each character sheet I sent out an email that listed the characters and who will play them, and any extra bits of information. For example, this is the email I sent for Death in Venice.

Hi,

I’ve now cast Death in Venice, thank you for completing the form in good time. Your character booklet and the game background is attached.

Here’s the cast list:

  • Jackie S is Mary-Lou Sinclair
  • Meera G is Célestine de Vincennes
  • Sara C is Tindall Nobbs
  • Stuart R is Daniel Setters
  • Dave T is JJ Kowalski
  • Jon F is Landor Hammond
  • Ahmed D is Courtney Keller
  • Jan W is Lyra Spark
  • Steve H is Cruz Vicente

Note I have a character and I’m playing. This means I know nothing about the characters other than the public information. If you have questions, I suggest that you hold on to them for now and we’ll resolve them after we’ve played. (As I can’t answer them!)

Please change your name on the Discord server to your character name. (I’ve changed mine to Cruz Vicente (Steve H GM).)

Abilities: If you can, print off your abilities and when you want to use then you can show them up to your webcam. If not, then you can either take a screenshot of the ability and post it in a message to whoever is asking. And if that doesn’t work, just read it out and we’ll trust you.

Clues/Secrets: Again, if you can print them off and should anyone need to see them then hold it up to the webcam. Or use a screenshot, or just read it out.

Announcements: There will be a few announcements during the game. They are to be read by different people (not always me), and I will send the announcement to that person to read out in the Common Room. I’ll then post the announcement itself as a jpg in the announcements text channel for anyone who wasn’t in the Common Room (you may have seen the background already in there).

Timetable: I plan to be online from about 13:30, and with a fair wind (and minimal technology issues) we’ll start playing at 14:00 and finish about 16:30.

I’m happy to answer questions about logistics. See you next Saturday!

Way out West – online (it’s been that kind of year)

Other ways of casting

That isn’t the only way of casting, and we’d be interested in hearing your ideas for casting in the comments below.

Using Discord for online murder mystery games

We used Discord when we ran The Karma Club and Death in Venice. It’s probably the most flexible of the video chat options, but it’s also the least intuitive.

This is a brief guide to setting up a Discord “server” (a space to hold your game).

The Karma Club via Discord

Advantages of Discord

  • It’s easy to create lots of game spaces for players to chat in.
  • Players can move themselves in and out of the spaces without needing you to move them (unlike Zoom’s breakout rooms which require someone to manage them).
  • You can easily see who is in which space, so you don’t need to go searching for people.
  • When you get into it, Discord is powerful and flexible.

Disadvantages of Discord

  • You can’t add a background to your video, like you can in Zoom. (At least, not yet.)
  • With lots of people, Discord can take up a lot of bandwidth. That can be a challenge for briefings if your broadband connection is slow and when everyone is in the same channel, it can be mitigated if people mute themselves and switch off video. It’s less of a problem once the game is flowing as most players will be chatting in small numbers.
  • Discord can be a bit geeky—there is lots of jargon and it’s not as user friendly as some alternatives.

Step 1: Sign up to Discord

First step is to sign up to Discord. I recommend downloading the desktop app (as performance is reportedly better), but you can do everything through your browser if that’s easier.

Step 2: Create and customise your server

A “server” is what Discord calls its chat rooms. To create one, click on the plus symbol “Add a Server” in the left-hand menu.

You will be asked whether you want to base it on a template or create your own. You don’t need a template, so click “create your own”.

You need to give your server a name and you can upload a photo if you like. (You can change these later.)

Once you’ve done that you will have a new server with one text channel called “general” and one voice channel (also called “General”). A channel is like a small chat room for a specific subject. Note that the voice channels also accept video.

Your server should look like the one above.

Step 3: Add more channels

Now you can rename or add your channels. (Click the + to add a channel. Click the cog to edit the channel to change the name or set other properties.)
For Death in Venice I set up these channels:

Death in Venice server – note the channels

(See our story about hosting Death in Venice for details on how I used them.)

To limit the number of players that can visit a channel at any one time, click on the cog (“Edit Channel”) and change the User Limit . Once you become proficient at using Discord you can create hidden channels and other tricks.

Step 4: Invite your players

To invite players to your server, click the down arrow next to the server name in the top left. You can either send them a link to the server or invite them directly if they are already on Discord. Either way, the link only lasts for 24 hours, so you may need to send it more than once.

Step 5: Change your nickname

You can change your nickname for your specific game server. For Death in Venice I changed mine to Cruz Vicente (he, Steve). If I was just hosting a game, I’d probably change it to Steve (he, Host).

I suggest you ask everyone to do that when they join your server.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to play!

Photos

Note that your Discord username is displayed on screen in the bottom left-hand corner. If you take a screenshot of your game to share, remember to crop that bit to hide your username.

More help

Here’s the official Discord article on setting gup a server.

And here are our tips for hosting online murder mystery games.

Hosting and Playing Death in Venice

Last weekend I hosted and played Death in Venice, using Discord for video chat.

When Mo wrote Death in Venice earlier in the year I deliberately kept away from it because I wanted to play and host simultaneously.

Normally our games don’t allow us to do that – the host needs to know too much about what’s going on, but as the games we’ve written for online video chat are simpler (there are no items or money to be managed, and no fighting), we’ve included a version of the instructions that lets the host be the player.

So that’s what I did. (I had planned to do this earlier in the year, but other events interfered… 2020 has not been an easy year!)

Differences in the two versions

When you purchase Death in Venice (and also Reunion with Death) you are given the option to download a “standard” version (like all our games) or a “Host as Player” version.

The differences are all in the instructions for hosts document (of which there are two versions – one if you are hosting as normal, and one if the host is playing). The “host as player” instructions differ as follows:

  • Casting table removes any plot information – such as who the murderer is, and other dark secrets.
  • The details of the murder and other sub-plots are omitted.

The only place where the murderer is revealed is in that character’s booklet, and also in the murder solution.

So to start with you should only read the instructions, the game background, and the quick reference sheet. Don’t read anything else!

Organising and Casting

I recruited players from the Facebook UK-Freeforms group (filled with enthusiasts who enjoy games like the ones we publish) and created a Facebook Messenger group for early game discussion.

I created a Google Form for casting, and asked each player to choose which three players they liked the sound of best, based on the information from the cast list. (I also had a “I’m happy to play anyone” option.)

I cast myself last, as I didn’t mind who I played. As it happens, I ended up with one of the optional characters. I didn’t do that deliberately, but I would do that again—I didn’t read my character until the day, and that meant that I could step in if we had a last-minute cancellation. (We did have such a cancellation, but I found a player from the waitlist instead.)

When I sent out the character booklets I stressed to everyone that I couldn’t answer plot or character questions as I hadn’t read anything. (I could answer logistics questions though!)

Discord

I set up a Discord sever for Death in Venice, as it worked well when I hosted The Karma Club. I set up individual channels labelled “Casanova #1” and “Casanova #2” so the players could have private chats. (I’ve described how to use Discord here.)

Death in Venice Discord server

We did have a few minor technical problems, but they were resolved either by closing Discord and restarting, or just waiting for Discord to resolve the problem itself.

I asked everyone to change their name on Discord to their character name – mine was Cruz Vicente (Steve, he).

On the day

I told everyone that I would be joining Discord 30 minutes before the start of the game. That gave us time to sort out a couple of technical difficulties, and some players changed into costume. (My costume was just a hat.)

As part of my initial announcements, I covered all the items that I had sent out with the character booklets (playing time, the fact that I couldn’t answer plot questions, how abilities would work, and so on). When I ran The Karma Club I had forgotten to do this, and I think this game ran a lot smoother because I went over the logistics again.

I stuck to the timetable in the game – we started playing at 2pm and finished at 4:30pm. Because I’d clarified that we were finishing at 4:30pm, I found that at the end of the game everyone returned to the main game “common room” with no prompting, so that worked well.

For announcements, I had them in a folder on my laptop. (They’re provided as graphics files.) I messaged them directly to the player who needed to read them out. Shortly after that I posted each announcement into the announcements channel on Discord so that if anyone wanted to go back and read them they could.

For abilities, Secrets and Clues, everyone had printed them out and we just showed them up to our webcams. That worked fine.

How was playing and hosting?

Playing and hosting worked fine. I was worried that I would get carried away by playing, so I set a countdown timer on my phone for each announcement. That gave me a reminder for each announcement so I didn’t forget them. (I should probably do the same when I’m hosting a game normally—they can be hectic.)

I achieved most of my goals, I had a good time, and between us we identified the murderer.

I think that given the choice I would rather either play or host rather than play and host, but it was definitely an interesting experience.

My Tips for Running and Hosting

So here are my tips for running and hosting our online murder mystery parties. They apply to both Death in Venice and Reunion with Death.

  • 30 minutes: Be online 30 minutes in advance to settle everyone in and help fix any technical difficulties.
  • Stick to the timetable: Stick to the timetable in the game, and let everyone know when you expect to end the game.
  • Go over the logistics again: Go over the logistics again—not everyone will remember them.
  • Cast yourself as an optional character: As an optional character you have the chance of taking a core character if one of them drops at the last minute.

Mass Murder

In an earlier post Kelly from Michigan told us about the prizes she awards when she hosts one of our murder mystery games.

The Reality is Murder - a murder mystery party from Freeform Games

The Reality is Murder

She then told us about another thing she does – mass murder!

“We usually have a mass murder after the game is over. I let anyone who wants to kill anyone else if they win at RPS, it doesn’t matter if they have a weapon or not. I don’t think anyone realizes that it doesn’t count, it is more about fun and settling scores. One person feels it is his duty to kill all the bad guys, even if he played a bad guy.

“It keeps people busy while we finish adding up the scores for the awards.”

Let us know if you give that a try!

Lord and Lady Westing’s Will – online!

Lord and Lady Westing’s Will is one of our more challenging murder mystery games to run online. The game is set in an English country house with numerous private bedrooms to sneak into.

Our rules for searching the rooms involve talking to the host (because you probably don’t have an English country house of your own to run the game in).

Different locations in Lord and Lady Westing’s Will

Online this can become complicated.

Online locations

One problem we have had in creating locations using Zoom or Discord is that when players want to do something in that location (such as hide an item), they move themselves to that location to do that. After all, that’s what they’d do in real life.

But we want them to interact with the host, so that the host knows what’s going on. And the host may be somewhere else.

Ryan, one of our customers, ran Lord and Lady Westing’s Will using Discord and here’s his story about he set up and used locations.

Ryan’s story

Ryan discussed with us his ideas, and one that caught our attention was this:

“I realized that in Discord, I can make certain channels visible and accessible only to certain roles in the channel, so I was planning to have all the upstairs private rooms hidden to everyone except to me, and then create a small channel called “Stairs”.

“If I saw anyone go into the “Stairs” room, I’d go in and ask them which room they’d want to access, and then move them myself into the channel corresponding to that room (which again they normally can’t see, but once I move them into it they can see it). That way no one else could see them in the channel, it would just seem like they had disappeared for the time being.”

He then reported back after his party:

“The party turned out great! I had a voice channel for each of the rooms on the ground floor, and then a Quiet Corner that only two people could go into for more secretive discussion.

“I also had the Stairs, which only 1 person could fit into at a time, leading to hidden upstairs rooms (which I would drag the guests into after they told me where to go).

“I was the only host, so it got a bit hectic towards the end of the game and adding someone else to help out with items or moving people around would have been be nice. Besides that, I feel like the private rooms had their ups and downs. It gave a sense of privacy to what you were doing. If lots of people were upstairs, the ones downstairs would notice because half of the people were missing from the voice channels.

“That led to some curious individuals going upstairs to specifically find out who was in what room. At first I was apprehensive because just easily letting a guest find someone who took the time to hide in a bedroom sounded lame for the Guest #1 searching the room, but in the end I winged it and told the Guest #2 that they had to spend some time “looking” for Guest #1 (usually like 3 minutes). That felt fairer, but I feel like there’s a better way I could’ve handled it.

“I’m definitely going to run another game soon. Thanks again for all the advice!”

Small spaces

We like creating small spaces in Discord – it’s something we’ll try in future as well.

If you’ve run a game online, we would love to hear about it.

Reunion with Death and Death in Venice – Kelly’s story

Kelly in Michigan has tried both Reunion with Death and Death in Venice, and has shared her story (and some great tips) with us.

“Thanks for making the online versions of the games! We tried both of them. I don’t think I am qualified to review Reunion With Death though. The first time around I was going through stuff and made a mess of it. The second time I tried to run it I had Zoom issues, a no-show with an important part that I then was trying to play, and one person left in the middle due to a work crisis… It had nothing to do with the game.

“So, when I saw Death In Venice, I figured we would give it another try.

“We played on Zoom. People would take turns speaking with other players for 5 mins at a time (I set a time limit in the breakout rooms). Since we had an odd number of people, the one left over would hang out with me, take a break, etc.

“I forwarded the information to the person who was making announcements on Facebook. They read it aloud. I also had it on a shared screen. I think this was the first time the announcements were all on schedule.

“We didn’t do our normal awards ceremony, but we did have a rousing debate at the end over who the killer was. It was a good time.

“Our hints

“Let your guests know that the game is a bit faster moving than it would be in real life. They should invest a little more time than usual in getting to know their roles pregame.

“Remind them to have a pen and paper handy to take notes. When we play in real life we always included them with our character packets.

“If players are going into private chats or break out rooms to talk, limit the time they are in there. We found five minutes ideal. It gives them enough time to chat, but it is short enough to keep the game moving. People spoke to different players multiple times if needed.

“Thanks for helping us maintain some level of sanity during these trying times. It has been a soul sucking few months, hopefully things will normalize. Our group can’t wait until we can safely get together and finally play Murder At Sea.”

Tips for hosting our games online

Note: We now include a guide for online play with all of our murder mystery games. That guide was largely based on these tips, although there’s a little more detail here. 

Last weekend we hosted The Karma Club for 14 players online, and combined with our experiences of Reunion With Death and Death in Venice, I thought I’d share a few tips for hosting our games online.

The Karma Club online – using Discord

Four key aspects

The four key aspects of an online game:

  • Setting it up – making sure everything works before you start hosting
  • Video chat – which video chat system you use
  • Announcements – you will need to make announcements
  • Game mechanics – how you will deal with items, abilities, combat, locations and so on.

I’ll discuss each in turn below.

Setting your party up

In many ways, preparing for an online party is much the same as for a regular party. You still need to send out invitations, check that everyone is attending, cast your game and so on. However there are also a few differences…

Most of the differences are around deciding on which video chat to use and how you are going to manage announcements or items, and I’ll cover those below.

For The Karma Club, I was inspired by one of our customers who ran Murder at Sea. They had set up a website for their online party, with links to the Zoom rooms, Google Hangouts and to their character folders. I did the same and built a Karma Club website using Google Sites (which is free and easy to use). I included the game details, links to the character folders, and details of how the game would work.

The Karma Club website

(I originally had links to the game rooms, which I set up using Jitsi. But that didn’t work – more on that below.)

There’s no reason you can’t set up a website for your regular parties of course. (If you’ve already done that and would be happy to share, we’d love to see your websites! Click here to tell us about them.)

Video Chat

There are lots of different video chat systems now available, but whichever you choose it needs three key features:

  • It needs to be able to cope with the number of players and GMs in one room (mainly for the briefing and debriefing). Some systems (eg Google Hangouts) have a maximum size of 10.
  • You need lots of smaller rooms (or channels) for people to talk in small groups.
  • It needs to allow people to be present for about three hours. (Most do – but the free version of Zoom only allows group calls for 40 minutes max.)

I don’t have experience of many video chat systems, but I’m going to cover a few of the more well-known systems.

Zoom is one of the most popular video chat apps. The basic plan is free, and you can host up to 100 participants, which is more than enough. You can also create breakout rooms for everyone. The downsides of Zoom are that the meeting host has to move people in and out of the breakout rooms, and that the free plan only allows groups to chat for 40 minutes (but you can rejoin).

Google Hangouts is really easy to use and doesn’t require any special software. However, it only allows 10 people at most, and while you can create separate hangouts, you can’t easily see who is in them. (But that’s not that different from playing in real life…) Hangouts’ biggest flaw is not knowing how long Google will continue supporting it, particularly now that they are promoting Google Meet (which I’ve not used).

Jitsi is a free alternative to Google Hangouts, but will manage bigger groups. However, I have found it to be very unreliable – I had planned to use it for The Karma Club, but it was so unstable we moved to Discord instead.

Discord is the system I would recommend – providing you have access to someone who can set up an area for you to play in. Discord has been used by gamers for years for voice chat while they play online – it’s stable and doesn’t use much bandwidth. But it has a fairly steep learning curve if you are setting up a server (it’s a much simpler if you’re just using it to play a game). Discord allows for lots of sub-rooms, and players can move themselves from room to room. (Click here for our tips for setting up a Discord server.)

Video chat tips:

  • If possible, arrange a test beforehand to make sure it works with everyone at the same time. Be prepared to change if things don’t go according to plan.
  • Give your rooms/channels appropriate names. But don’t use in-game locations, if they are used as part of the game. For example, in The Karma Club I had set up a video chat space as “Bob’s Room.” My thinking was that Bob could use that for a private chat. But if players then wanted to hide something in Bob’s room then they’d instinctively go there to do that (and that was a problem if I wasn’t there to supervise). So next time I will use different names (or locations completely unrelated to key game locations) so that people can say “Let’s go to the Purple Room” and if someone needs to hide something in Bob’s room, they know to talk to me.
  • If your video chat system allows it, get everyone to change their screen name to their character name as that will make it easier for everyone to find each other.
  • Set up an “out of character” room for everyone to congregate in before the game and where you will deliver the briefing and debriefing.
  • If you’re suffering from lag issues it may be due to your computer rather than the chat server or your broadband speed. Try closing other apps (that may be causing conflicts), update your drivers or even reinstall the software. I also know someone who when they checked their Task Manager found that they had 5 instances of Discord running – which won’t have helped!

Announcements

One of the downsides of online play is that it can be hard to make announcements during the game. For example, most of our games have announcements at various times such as clues to the murder and so on.

How do you make those if everyone is in their own video chat?

Some ideas:

  • Some systems (such as Discord) allow you to send updates and messages to all the players. This is probably the simplest way.
  • If you’ve got a small game and you’re using something like Google Hangouts, it’s quite easy to drop into each chat and paste the announcement into the chat window.
  • For The Karma Club, I had set up a Facebook event page so that I could post updates as the game approached and for announcements during the game. There were two problems with this idea: First, not everyone was on Facebook. Second, not everyone saw their notifications – so if you’re going to do this make sure everyone has their notifications enabled for the event.

Rules briefing: Don’t forget to do a full rules briefing at the start, including how things like abilities and items and locations will work online. Even though you’ve probably explained in advance how these things will work, you can guarantee that someone hasn’t read that or has forgotten what you told them.

Ending the party: When I am running a live game I will often decide when to end the game based on the energy in the room. When the energy is high (lots of people whispering in corners) then I know the game is going well. As players start to achieve their goals and run out of plots the room will start to get quieter.

That’s obviously much harder to do online and for The Karma Club I just used our game timetable.

Game mechanics

Our games include special abilities, items that move from character to character and (occasionally) specific game locations. We’ve designed the games to be played face-to-face, and these aspects of our games need some thinking about when playing online.

You might want a second host to help run the abilities and items (Mo helped me with The Karma Club.)

(Our two online games, Death in Venice and Reunion with Death specifically don’t include items, money or locations so that they are easy to play online.)

Abilities: For The Karma Club, and our online games, we recommend that players print out their abilities, Secret and Clue. That way they can hold them up to their webcam when either they need to use an ability or reveal their Secret/Clue.

For those who don’t have a printer at home, then trust works equally well. (Or you could have the character booklet on your phone/tablet and hold that up.)

Items and money: For The Karma Club I used the Windows Snipping Tool to turn all the items and money into graphical png files. I named each file the item name, plus a unique number (“notepad-72.png” and “USD100-23.png”). The unique number was because some of the files had duplicated names (particularly the money).

Money png files – note the unique number in the filename.

I set up Google Drive folders for each character, and into those put their character sheet and their items and money. The players had access to their own folders, but no others. If they wanted to give an item or some money to another player, they sent me a message and I moved the files from one folder to another.

Tips

  • Make sure you move the files, don’t just copy them!
  • Keep a complete set of the files you’ve created in a spare folder that only you can see, just in case something goes wrong!

You can also do this with Dropbox or OneDrive or whichever cloud storage works best for you.

You could also do this with a spreadsheet to track items and money.

Locations: Very few of our games use specific locations, but for those that do then it’s generally best if players speak to the host when they want to access a specific location.

And as I mentioned above, be careful naming your video chat rooms. It’s very tempting to give them “realistic” names to give your players a sense of moving around the physical space, but that can create confusion if the players think that that’s also where they interact with the locations.

Another option for locations is to create a folder for each (using Google Drive/Dropbox/OneDrive/etc as above) and put a description of the location in each folder (in a Word file or similar). Then players can go into those folders to “visit” the locations. If there are items there they can be in the folder and they can then take those items themselves, without needing a host to manage. (I know of a group who did this, but I worry about players accidentally deleting or duplicating something, so I didn’t do that for The Karma Club.)

Online games in summary

I’m pleasantly surprised at how well our games work online. While they’ll never fully replace the experience of playing face-to-face, I expect that the advantages (no need to travel, you can play with people from different time zones) mean that even after this crisis has passed they will still be played now and again.

We’re always interested in hearing about your stories – so if you successfully run one of our games online or face-to-face, please let us know!

And now hosts can play too!

We occasionally receive criticism about the role of the host: some people want to be able to host a murder mystery game and play it at the same time.

While we’ve written before about hosting and playing our games, it’s not always satisfactory because of what the host needs to know and manage.

But that changes with Death in Venice and Reunion with Death.

Designed for lockdown play using video chat, neither of these games include tricky rules (such as combat or pickpocketing) that require a separate host.

So now the host can play!

We’ve created a separate pack for hosts to download if they want to play our game as well as running it. That’s to keep everything separate, to minimise the risk that the host reads a key piece of information.

(So that’s like Way out West, which includes a self-contained kid-friendly version.)

So you can either host the game separately (as with our other games) or as a player. It’s up to you.

A caveat

The main downside that we can see of hosting and playing is that casting becomes a little trickier. If the host is playing they have less control over who plays which character.

We’ve provided some casting hints about each character – but obviously you don’t get as much depth as you do when you can read the characters themselves.

And as host you might even end up as the murderer! (If as host you don’t want to be the murderer, you can drop us a line and we’ll suggest a different role for you.)

We want to hear your stories!

If you try this out, please let us know how you get on. You can contact us either via Facebook or via our contact page.

Death in Venice – an online murder mystery for lockdown

We’ve just released another game specifically designed to be played online during this unprecedented lockdown – Death in Venice.

Death in Venice is for 5-9 players (and one host) and is again designed to be played using video chat (Zoom, Hangouts, or whatever your favourite is).

Last night at the glamorous Venice Film Festival, controversial award-winning director Clay McFarland was dead in front of St Mark’s Cathedral – hacked to death with a meat cleaver.

Clay’s movie, Never Look Back, won the festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award last night. After the post-awards party, the cast and crew and their guests returned to the Casanova, the luxury yacht they are using for the festival. All except Clay, who remained behind – and who never returned.

Everyone now is confined to their cabins aboard the Casanova, while the police start their investigation. The only way they can communicate is online.

As cathedral bells toll out across the ancient city, on board the Casanova a frothy ferment of vineyards, memoirs, gossip, jealousy, and movie-set punch-ups will come to the boil.

Charge your glasses, put on your designer sunglasses, and and join the cast and crew of Never Look Back as they try to solve the mystery of death in Venice!

Learn more about Death in Venice here.

A Heroic Death in Lockdown

A Heroic Death is one of our more complex games in terms of moving parts – it has superpowers and hidden identities and specific locations. So we never thought it would be a candidate for online play during coronavirus lockdown.

How wrong we were!

Eve Bennett successfully ran A Heroic Death with her friends spread across three cities, two in France and one in the UK (and with seven different nationalities, so a real international mix).

Technical stuff – Zoom, Slack and a dedicated app

Here’s Eve:

“Similarly to what someone described in a previous blog of yours, we used Zoom, but we used the breakout rooms function to represent the different rooms in the superheroes’ base (according to the plan provided with the game).

“So players could go to different rooms to have private conversations. For the items and abilities, my partner (who’s handily a software engineer) created an app that functioned as a virtual wallet for each player (see photo).

Virtual wallet

“We also set up a private channel on Slack (see example below) for each player with them and us, the two hosts, which they used to tell us when they wanted to move to a different room or use an item or ability or get stuff from, or leave stuff in, one of the bedrooms.

Here’s the document that we sent to the players to explain all the virtual game mechanics in full.” (Note – this is an MS Word document that will download if you click on it.)

I believe that Zoom’s breakout rooms function is only available with the paid version – but if you are technically minded there are other options such as Discord.

So how did it go?

“It was a really great evening and everyone has been telling us how much they loved it and how it was the most fun they’d had in weeks.

“However, it was pretty hectic for us hosts, even with two of us! It’s a shame that the players had to rely on us to move them to different rooms as it was hard to keep on top of that as well as the items, abilities, hangover cures, etc. But we managed, more or less!”

Eve did later say that if she were doing it again she would set the game space up using lots of Google Hangouts (as Peal described previously) as using Zoom meant that the hosts had to move everyone in and out of the breakout rooms.

“In this photo you can see all the participants. You can probably guess who’s who, but just in case, from left to right…

  • Top row: Hosts 1 & 2 (we went for a Red Dwarf reference as the Host is supposed to be a hologram!), Miguel (in his cleaning supplies cupboard), InvisoGirl.
  • Second row: Shaman, Puss, Bloody Mary (actual bloody mary made with passata as she couldn’t find tomato juice not pictured), Ice Queen.
  • Third row: Masked Crusader, WhizzoGirl (who kept styling her hair and reapplying makeup throughout), Doctor Robot (Head and) Neck, S.
  • Bottom row: The Russian, Captain Amazing! (underpants over tights not pictured, but we did catch a glimpse at one point!).

“I’d told everyone not to worry too much about costumes, but as you can see they made an amazing effort in the circumstances!

“So thank you very much to all at Freeform Games for keeping us thoroughly entertained for an evening (and longer in the case of us hosts)!”