Category Archives: From our mailbag

Adding 20 players to Hollywood Lies

We were recently asked how we would add around 20 additional characters to Hollywood Lies. That’s a lot, and as we’ve already talked about that for Casino Fatale, I thought I’d explain what I would do for Hollywood Lies.

Hollywood Lies starts with 32 characters, and there are two additional characters. So an additional 20 characters means you could run Hollywood Lies for 54 guests! You’re going to want at least one more host for that! (And this applies to Christmas Lies and Halloween Lies as well.)

Overall approach

Cover for the Hollywood Lies murder mystery game

As I mentioned in the earlier post, I wouldn’t write detailed characters (with secrets and bespoke goals) for these extra 20—that would be a significant amount of work. So these would be more minor characters, mainly focussed on solving the murder and making movies.

I’d give each character:

  • A clue—duplicated from the other characters.
  • A goal to help solve the murder.
  • A goal to be in the movies.
  • A goal to help their friends.
  • Another goal—related to either the Hollywood Charity Ball (maybe buy a ticket), the Post-Modern Freeform Movement (maybe as a member, maybe wanting to join), Club Monte Carlo (to join), find an agent, or be hypnotised by Les Tytan.

I would make sure that each of the new characters had two or three good friends they could support (hence the goal). Ideally, you would cast real-life friends in these roles.

I’d also give them abilities (based on the existing ones) and money to make sure there’s still enough money in the game for all the movies to be made.

More ability uses

With more characters, ability uses will be scarce. So to counter this, I would give everyone five blank “Tear this up instead of marking an ability use” cards.

Making movie changes

I would change the making movie rules slightly to ensure that everyone can make a movie.

Hollywood Lies starts with five producers and movie teams of 5-8 people. I would increase the team size to 8-10 and add a sixth producer—so theoretically, we could have up to 60 people making movies.

Six producers gives us flexibility, although it does mean the party will last longer as there will be another movie to show off. (With an additional 20 characters, the party will take longer than usual because it will take the players longer to find the people they need to talk to.)

Assistants

I would also create assistants to help the original characters. In particular, an assistant for each producer and the detective.

Copying existing characters

I would also copy some of the existing character types (similar to the new producer I mentioned above).
These would be new agents, another Hollywood reporter and maybe an amateur detective.

20 additional characters

So here are my 20 additional characters:

  • One extra producer, whose main goal is to make a movie
  • Six assistant producers
  • One assistant detective
  • Two new agents
  • One rival Hollywood reporter
  • One amateur detective as a rival to the police detective
  • Four actor/directors (who can do either role)
  • Four actor/screenwriters (each with a screenplay)

And if I needed even more, I’d increase the number of actors/screenwriters/directors.

More tips on adding characters

A question

Would you be interested if we produced an additional 20 characters for Hollywood Lies? (And Halloween Lies and Christmas Lies.) Let us know in the comments below.

Additional Way out West character and Zoom tips


We have received a great story from Rosie about her Way out West Zoom party.

Way out West on Zoom

I ran Way out West via zoom for a group of old school friends last weekend and it was so much fun! The players said it was one of the best evenings they’ve had all year.

I wrote one extra character. My husband played it and said it worked really well- in fact he got quite a few murder accusations (is that a mark of success?!)

(I wrote the character so that it could be played by male or female as I’ve noticed there seem to be fewer female parts in the murder mysteries I’ve seen- but then saw you’d given the stable hand a name already so he is Pete.)

Zoom worked pretty well as a medium, I only have the basic account so we had to restart the call every 40 minutes which wasn’t as annoying as it sounded as the game broke fairly neatly into 40 min chunks. A word of advice to others to check out their breakout room settings- they need to tick the box to allow players to exit breakout rooms themselves!

Thanks for a lovely evening.

You can now download Rose’s extra character, stable hand Jay Sidwell, with the other extra characters in the same place you download the main files.

Her note about gender balance is interesting – we try to be even in the genders across our games and include a good number of genderless characters to keep things flexible, obviously we can always do better.

In fact originally her character, the stable hand, was male. That’s because the stable hand, Pete, is mentioned once in Way out West – they’re the poor soul who finds Zeke’s body. So we’ve changed Pete to Jay and made them genderless.

Way out West now has three extra characters, and you can see the full list of extra character for all our games here.

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.”

Prizes Galore!

One of our customers, Kelly from Michigan, has told us of the numerous prizes she uses when she hosts our games. Except where noted, the awards are voted on by the players themselves and tallied at the end of the game.

“We usually try to get all the ballots in by mid-game, but since few obey, we accept them until we have votes tallied. You guys are right, it is a great way to wrap of the evening. People enjoy getting them, and the cost is minimal.”

The Reality is Murder - a Freeform Games murder mystery game

The Reality is Murder

Kelly does vary the awards depending on the games, but these are the awards that she told us about.

Best Dressed (“We used do best male and best female – now we are gender neutral and do the top three.”)

Best Acting (“Again we use do best male and best female, but we are gender neutral and do the top three.”)

Random Award (The person who added something to make the night more fun.)

Most Outrageous Player

Too nice to be a killer

Slimiest Suspect

Biggest Ham (Chosen by the photographer who they thought was the most fun when taking pictures.)

Best Accent

Biggest Badass (Used in A Speakeasy Murder.)

Best Dancer (“During Lei’d to Rest we had a mid-game hula contest.”)

Staff Awards: The party hosts chose winners for these two. You can use the most number of nominations from the other players across the other awards, or player who got the most points (see Keeping Score), or any other method you want.

Best Newbie

Best in Show!

Alternate Pickpocket rules

One of our customers, Rob from Canada, wrote to tell us about a variant for our pickpocket rules that he used.

Watch out – there’s a pickpocket about!

Here’s the text that he prepared for those with the pickpocket skill:

Your character has the Pickpocket ability. Your ability card shows what you can pickpocket and how many attempts you have during the game. Beware! Some characters have the ability to investigate pickpocket crimes, and even dispense justice if a crime is proven!

When you want to use your ability, you will need to do three things:

  1. Complete a Pickpocket Use slip.
  2. Place a sticker somewhere on your victim’s body.
  3. Show the host your ability card and give them the Pickpocket Use slip, telling them where on the target you placed the sticker (such as left shoulder, right heel, purse, etc.)

The host will seek out your target as soon as possible. If the sticker is no longer there, then you may have been discovered by your target or another character who saw you place the sticker. Other players have not been told what the sticker means, but you had better watch your back as they may become suspicious!

If the sticker is still there, the host will advise the target they’ve been pickpocketed and will search through their items, retrieving either the target item (if they have it) or some other random item. The host will then (as discreetly as possible) remove the sticker from the target and transfer the stolen item to you.

Stickers and Pickpocket Use slips will be found in your character envelope which you’ll get at the start of the game.

Rob is using our rules for Investigating Pickpocketing Crimes, which you can find here.

If this sounds slighting familiar, it’s because we talked (briefly) about using stickers for pickpocketing previously, back in 2014. But this is a much more detailed explanation of how that works.

Note: Depending on your players, you may need to consider whether using stickers needs their consent first. If so, then we recommend using our standard non-contact pickpocket rules.

Adding characters to Court in the Act

We were recently asked by Pam, one of our customers:

I’m getting ready to run Court in the Act in three weeks time. I was just sending out character assignments tonight, and realized I accidentally listed Sir Walter Raleigh twice in my list, so I have two different people down to play him! My cast list/assignments is full, and I already have Ginger Roberts assigned as a character.

I recall seeing somewhere that sometimes folks have made a role a ‘twin’ (two people play the same person), but before I go that route, I was just wondering if you happen to have any ‘extra’ characters floating around for this mystery that I can try out?! Or any other ideas you may have for me? Unfortunately I don’t have time to create an additional character role myself.

Our response:

It’s easy to make these kinds of casting slips! I’m sorry to say that we don’t have any more extra characters for Court in the Act, unfortunately — no-one has ever sent anything in for this particular game.

The simplest type of character to introduce at short notice would be another servant / lowly person — because it’s easier to explain the presence of someone like that than it is another important noble. They could be focused on information gathering / brokering — perhaps acting as an informal agent for one of the powers. Perhaps a secret Catholic? And some sort of interpersonal rivalry/affection/romance plotlines going on with Hobbs and Nagel? And they could maybe have information incriminating the murderer, as they are a little hard to identify at present.

Otherwise if you do decide to go down the ‘twin’ route (which means that the character’s are virtually identical in terms of goals and much of the background), that is of course very much in keeping with the Shakespearean theme — a twin Raleigh could be an interesting twist and cause a lot of fun.

Here are a few articles covering adding extra characters:

New extra characters for Court in the Act

We must have inspired Pam because then a couple of weeks later she sent us two additional characters for Court in the Act that she had written with her co-host Jeremy. We’ve now made them available for download when you buy the game files:

  • Carlos Santiago – Assistant to the Spanish Ambassador (M)
  • Syrino Foreal – Cardinal’s under-secretary (M)

Hollywood Lies – actual play!

So what does a Freeform Games murder mystery party really look like?

They’re hard to describe, and if you’ve not seen or played in one, they’re fairly hard to imagine.

So here’s a moment from Hollywood Lies, sent to us by Julie D’Augusta. In this scene, Jules Milton is being thrown out from the Post-Modern Freeform Movement (one of many plots in Hollywood Lies, and nothing to do with the main murder plot).