Category Archives: General

General posts about Freeform Games

Raise money for charity with Freeform Games

We’re always very happy for our games to be used to raise money for charity. While we have commercial licences available for people who want to run our games commercially, if you want to run one for charity, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Buy a game from us. We suggest that you pick one of our larger games such as All at Sea, Casino Fatale or Hollywood Lies. That way you can maximise the number of guests you invite and therefore how much money you raise.

  2. Let us know that you’re using our game to raise money for charity – all we ask is that you mention our name in your publicity. We’ll also add your event to our site.

  3. And that’s it!

Way out West

Choose a game with lots of characters to raise as much money as possible!

If you’re not sure whether one of our games will work for you, then download our free version of Way out West. You’ll get a good idea of how our games work and whether they are suitable for your fundraising event. (The free version of Way out West probably won’t be big enough for  you though.) This is what Vicki, one of customers did:

“Thank you for allowing us to read Way out West. Our non-profit is wanting to host a game like yours but since I have never attended one and have NO IDEA how they work, I was thrilled to be able to actually read and understand the mechanics of running such a game. I have put this off for years because I could not discover how it is actually organized and carried out. Now I know and we will be choosing one of your games for our fund-raiser in September. SO EXCITED!! Thank you!!”

Here are a few suggestions for raising money with our games:

  • Take plenty of time: While your friends may forgive you the odd mistake, when you have paying guests then you need to take a bit more care. So make sure that you thoroughly understand the game (and maybe try out the mechanics first). You’ll probably also want one or two co-hosts to make sure the evening goes smoothly.

  • Finger food or sit-down dinner: We always recommend finger food for our games, because it allows your guests to eat while continuing to mingle and play the game. However, for a charity event you might want to create a special meal – in which case we suggest that you schedule plenty of time for the meal and the game.

  • Raise as much money as you can: Some of our games include opportunities to raise a bit of extra money within the game. For example, in Hollywood Lies the players can use money to increase the likelihood of their movie winning. You could allow the players to use real-life money (to charity of course) to increase the chances of their movie winning! (We wouldn’t normally recommend doing this – but it’s in a good cause!)

  • Have plenty of prizes: End the evening on a high by awarding plenty of prizes – best costume, most outrageous accent, best actor, funniest moment…

When you’ve hosted your event, please tell us about it, either here or on Facebook.

Steve Hatherley

Shape Up!

When I’m not making murder mystery games for Freeform Games, one of the other things I do is… make other kinds of games. (I may have a bit of a games problem. Although if you acknowledge it, it isn’t a problem, isn’t that right?)

So just lately I’ve been thinking about card games, particularly small ones that can be played in a family context – not too complex, but with enough interest and depth to make people want to try them again (and again). I am the first to admit that I have a lot to learn, and the games I’ve designed are not yet as good as I’d like them to be: but I have just had one published, so I thought you might like to take a look. Especially as it’s free!

Yes, the game’s called Shape Up! and you can download it for free from the publisher’s site, Good Little Games. Just print out the file, cut up the cards, and away you go. There are also several other good games on the site, all also free!

Here’s an example card from the game:
example_card
which is basically about assembling these different-symbolled cards in different combinations to score more points than your opponent.

Give it a go if you think it sounds like your sort of thing! – and Steve and I would love to hear what you make of it.

Introverts and our murder mystery games

I’ve just finished the excellent book Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. In it, Cain outlines the differences between introverts and extroverts and how society (American society in particular) values extroverts over their quieter brethren.

A couple of characters from The Karma Club

Introverts and extroverts enjoying The Karma Club

Now, I’m an introvert and so I found myself agreeing with much of the book. But I also found myself reflecting on introverts and our murder mystery games. Surely as in introvert I should hate our interactive murder mystery games? Maybe not.

I don’t particularly enjoy parties. As an introvert I find myself stuck for things to say – I’m hopeless at small talk with strangers. And I don’t particularly like large groups. So at a party I inevitably end up finding one or two people to talk to in depth – and then I worry that I’m monopolising all their attention. (Shyness and a dose of guilt – that’s very traditional introvert behaviour.)

However, I love playing in one of our murder mystery games. I have no problem talking to complete strangers in one of our games – it’s as if the very nature of our games (a fake situation, everyone has goals and objectives) removes my awkwardness.

In my view, the key to this is that I don’t have to make small talk in a Freeform Games murder mystery. We make sure that each character knows something interesting about two or three or four other characters – enough to start a conversation with someone else. So instead of making small talk, I’m either trying to find out something or I’m sharing information that I already know.

I’m not sure our games are suitable for all introverts – if you’re painfully shy you might never enjoy our games. But here are some thoughts on casting extroverts and introverts:

  • Introverts often suit characters that other people will seek out. I remember (inadvertently) casting an very shy person in the role of one of the producers in Hollywood Lies – and they found that the actors, screenwriters and directors were seeking them out because they wanted to appear in their movie.

  • I would tend not to cast an introvert in a role that required a lot of announcements or public speaking. Detectives and private investigators tend to suit extroverts because they require the player to meet with everyone – and they often have a solution to read out at the end of the party.

  • Allow time to wind down afterwards. I find our murder mystery games quite exhausting (both when I’m hosting and when I’m playing), and I need a bit time after the game to wind down.

  • Remember that everyone is different – you may know introverts that are happy to speak in public, so please note that these are guidelines only.

You can take the quiet quiz here and find out whether you’re an introvert or not.

Steve Hatherley

Where did the name “Freeform Games” come from?

sharpandsensibility

This is another weekend freeform – Sharp and Sensibility where I played the British Prime Minister who, as well as running the country, had to deal with his demanding daughter and her friends.

In the UK and Australia, the games became known as “freeforms” whilst in the USA they became known as “theater-style larps”. They are often run at games conventions.

Freeforms/theater style larps involve giving players prewritten characters in a setting designed to create lots of conflict. After I played my first freeform in 1992, I realised that if you removed the genre trappings (most freeforms are steeped in fantasy/SF/horror) then you could create a game that anyone could play and enjoy.

Thus Mo and I started Freeform Games, and started bring freeform-style murder mystery parties to the Internet.

The main differences between a Freeform Games freeform and the freeforms run at games conventions are:

  • We provide detailed instructions for our hosts as we appreciate that our game might be the first time they have tried this sort of thing.

  • Freeforms at games conventions are often steeped in the fantasy or SF genres – it’s not unusual to be playing a vampire or a spaceman or even a vampire spaceman. We try to keep our games fixed in the real world. (Although we have made a couple of exceptions, such as Spellbound and A Heroic Death.)

  • We also ensure that our murder mystery games are fairly simple and take no longer than about three hours to play – other freeforms can be quite elaborate and involve dozens of players and take an entire weekend (see my post on The King’s Musketeers).

So when Mo and I talked about starting a business bringing murder-mystery style freeforms to the Internet, “Freeform Games” just seemed to be perfect.

There are perhaps two downsides to calling ourselves Freeform Games. The first is that the name itself doesn’t mean anything very much, particularly if you aren’t involved in freeforming. Second, and probably more importantly, it’s not a particularly good name from Google’s perspective, as it doesn’t contain the words “murder mystery”.

Despite those two drawbacks, I can’t imagine being called anything other than Freeform Games. It suits us just right.

Steve Hatherley

Using props

Using props in Who Shot the Sheriff

What’s in the yellow bottle?

While we provide item cards for all the key items in our murder mystery games, you can create a better atmosphere if you replace the cards with real props. There’s an obvious practical reason we use item cards in our downloads as opposed to physical props, but there are other issues with using real props that we’re going to explore here.

One of the problems with using real props instead of cards is that they can become confused with ‘costume props’ (those that your guests have brought along as part of their costume) and scenery.

For example, a couple of our games include notebooks containing key information as items. If you provide your guests with notebooks and pencils for them to take notes, then also providing the items as props presents a potential source of confusion.

One way around this is to attach the game item card to the appropriate prop, perhaps with a luggage label or sticky tape. That way it is clear when something is an in-game item or just part of someone’s costume.

Some items you might not want to re-create as props. Some people are phobic of spiders and snakes, so you might want to think twice about creating props for those if the game has them. (And one or two do!)

Real props can also be awkward to carry around all the time, especially if they are quite bulky and/or heavy. Some of our props have included a box, a record collection, a staff, a roll of material and we certainly wouldn’t want to spend the entire game carrying them around. While we don’t mind burdening characters with all this stuff, we’re more considerate about burdening our players.

Bottle of spiders

A bottle of spiders – perhaps not the best thing to reproduce as a prop

Unlike props, item cards are easy to conceal which means you can keep something hidden that you don’t want others to know about. Most items in our games start out concealed, so you may need to provide character-appropriate baggage for your guests.

There’s a school of thought that suggest that larger items (say weapons such as swords) should always be displayed if they are being carried. We haven’t formally included that in our games because we don’t believe it adds anything significant, but we’re very happy if you would like to implement such a rule. One approach would be to display such items with your namebadge.

Realistically, our characters probably aren’t carrying their items around with them all the time; they would probably hide bulky items somewhere secure until needed. However, our games don’t usually a way of interacting with the environment – there are rarely rooms or cupboards or hiding places. Instead, our item card approach abstracts all that away – but if you want to create the additional complexity then go for it. (In that sense the Pickpocket ability may not be actually stealing something from someone – it’s general theft.)

Steve Hatherley

Customising our murder mystery games

Dazzled to Death re-themed for a Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Dazzled to Death – Mad Hatter’s Tea Party style!

Our games aren’t always perfectly suited to your exact needs. Perhaps you want to set Casino Fatale in the 1920s, or perhaps you want to change the names of the characters in A Dead Man’s Chest to those of your favourite movie. Or perhaps you want to run Curse of the Pharaoh for children and need to rewrite the inappropriate plots.

Some companies won’t let you change their games, or they will charge you a fortune to make those changes themselves. And while we would have to charge for alterations if you wanted us to make them, we have a simpler solution: we’re happy for you to do it.

We’ll let you have the files in MS Word or OpenDocument (.odt) format for you to amend. Here’s how it works:

  1. You buy the game that you’re interested in.
  2. Then, drop us an email asking for the Word files and explaining why you want them. Please include the purchase ID so that we can check that you really have bought the game.
  3. We’ll then email you the files and you can amend them to your heart’s content.

If the changes you’re making are more extensive than simply changing names, we’d love to hear back. That’s partly because we really love hearing about our games are received, but also because we might want to consider whether we want to make those changes to the original game.

Some of the changes that have been made to our games include:

  • Setting Casino Fatale in the 1920s and 1960s, and moving it to Washington DC instead of Paris.

  • Changing Dazzled to Death to a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theme.

  • Relocating The Spy Who Killed Me to a US Ivy League university rather than Oxbridge.

  • The Night Before Christmas has been customized to be a “who killed the boss” office party setting.

  • Turning A Dead Man’s Chest into a Prohibition-era mobster game!

PS: If you just want to customise your game by adding an extra character, then simply download the template – and see these tips for writing extra characters. If you send the character back to us and we publish it on our site, we’ll give you a free game in return.

Steve Hatherley

Lord and Lady Westing’s Will

Lord and Lady Westing's WillToday we launch Lord and Lady Westing’s Will, our 25th murder mystery party game. This time we’re visiting Derbyshire, England in 1935 and a party held to celebrate the life of Lord and Lady Westing, who recently died in a tragic air balloon accident in Switzerland. Guests include famous authors, weapons manufacturers, aristocrats, a ballerina and even a big game hunter – some of whom weren’t even on the guest list!

So as the great European powers continue their stately dance towards war, we find ourselves in an English country house – with murder on our mind.

Compared with our other games, Lord and Lady Westing’s Will is probably closest in feel to Death on the Gambia. They are both set in the 1930s and both feature secret identities and government secrets. And of course both are set immediately before the Second World War.

Lord and Lady Westing's Will

What is inside this mysterious wooden box?

Lord and Lady Westing’s Will costs £20 and is for 11 to 16 guests, plus one host.

Lord and Lady Westing’s Will was written by Rachel Wendel, and it is her first murder mystery for us. We hope you enjoy hosting and playing it!

Steve Hatherley

Writing an optional character for a FFG murder mystery game

Sometimes more guests attend a murder mystery party than you originally envisaged. While some of our games have additional character packs that allow you to add up to 10 extra characters, most don’t. In that situation you may need to write an additional character (or two).

We provide templates so that you can create your characters in the right format so that they don’t stand out too much from the “real” characters. And we will also award anyone with a free game if they create a character that we like and publish on our site. But what we haven’t done is provide advice on how to write those extra characters. Until now

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to create a couple of imaginary optional characters for an imaginary murder mystery party: Murder at the Ball. Murder at the Ball is a murder mystery set in the world of fairytales – characters include Prince Charming, Cinderella, Snow White, the Wicked Witch, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty, the Beast and other familiar characters. The setting is the grand ball, where all the plots will unfold.

Two extra characters

We’ve realised that we need two extra characters as we have two more guests coming than originally expected.

Here are some typical types of extra characters that we find fairly easy to add:

  • Assistants, deputies, underlings.

  • Rivals and enemies.

  • Family – close relatives (sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters).

  • Characters linked to plots that involve lots of people.

  • Investigator-types – reporters, extra detectives.

  • Spies or diplomat in a national diplomacy or espionage games.

So the first thing to do is to decide what additional characters to add. Having read through the game we’ve decided to add Fairy Tulip, an assistant to the Fairy Godmother, and Jack the Giant Killer (from Jack and the Beanstalk). We’ve decided to pick these two because we believe the Fairy Godmother already has plenty to do and Murder at the Ball has a plot all about electing a new Mayor, which involves a lot of people and we can fit Jack into.

Way out West

Way out West

Background

We usually start our character backgrounds with a brief summary of who the character is and why they are present in the game:

  • “You are Fairy Tulip and you are here to help the Fairy Godmother.”

  • “You are Jack the Giant Killer and you are here because you want to become Mayor.”

Then we explain any background information that the characters know (including links to other plots), along with what they need to achieve. So for Fairy Tulip, this would include some of the things that the Fairy Godmother is working on that she can help with. We would refer to the Fairy Godmother’s character sheet for examples – but we wouldn’t copy it word for word, but instead write it from Fairy Tulip’s perspective.

For Jack, we would look at other Mayoral candidates and use their description of how the election works in Jack’s background.

Do the same with other plots. For example, we would normally tie them into the murder plot. For example, it could be that Fairy Tulip was a close friend of the victim, and is therefore motivated to find the murderer. With Jack, on the other hand, we might decide that some of the clues that point to the murderer also point to Jack – turning him into a suspect.

Where possible we try to include conflict in our plots. So Fairy Tulip might not agree with all of the Fairy Godmother’s plans, and might actually be working to foil one or two. Similarly, Jack could be a rival to one of the other Mayoral candidates.

Goals

The goals section of our character sheets are a reminder and clarification of that character’s objectives. They shouldn’t add anything new that isn’t already covered by the background. The number of goals varies from game to game and character to character, but four goals is a good number to aim for.

 

Death on the Gambia

Death on the Gambia

Other People

We use the Other People section of the character sheet to add useful snippets of information about other characters in the game that our new characters know. We try not to repeat the information on the cast list as that doesn’t add anything new. Instead, we prefer to add something that lets our character strike up a conversation, either with that person or someone else.

Our new characters should need no more than five or six Other People entries, so they won’t need an entry for everyone.

We find it useful to look at the Other People sections of the original characters. In many cases those entries can be copied word for word as they often reflect things that they have seen or have heard stories about – and our new characters might have seen those same things or heard those same stories.

Some examples:

  • Prince Charming: You met Prince Charming earlier and he told you that he was looking for a glass slipper.

  • Snow White: You’ve heard a rumour that Snow White has been living in the forest with some dwarves.

Tips for beginners

Tips for beginners consist of two actions that the person playing your new character can do at the start of the game. The idea is to give them something to get them going, to start the game with a bang. We don’t tend to include actions that will directly solve their goals – the idea is to get a new player started, not solve their goals for them.

In our example, Fairy Tulip might have an action to report to the Fairy Godmother and ask if there is anything she can to do help, while one of Jack’s actions might be to talk to Prince Charming about the glass slipper.

Abilities

The easiest way to give abilities to our new characters is simply to copy some abilities from the other characters. If you’ve played one of our other games, you could also copy an ability from that game.

We normally give each character three abilities (some of our older games don’t follow this rule, however – do whatever suits the game, but three is about right).

Secret and Information/Clue

Most characters have a guilty secret that they don’t want anyone else to know – that’s what goes in their Secret. This is usually pretty incriminating, although we don’t put the identity of the murderer in Secrets because we want the murder to be solved by using deduction rather than abilities!

Information/Clue contains a piece of information that the character knows. This relates to one of the plots, often the murder plot. We put key information here to ensure that it circulates around the game (to those that need to know) via the use of abilities.

Items and money

Our new characters may need items that are both needed for their backstory and help with other plots. For example, Fairy Tulip ought to have a wand and Jack the Giant Killer might have some magic beans, a golden harp and (perhaps) and axe.

Information for the original characters

Once we’ve finished our characters we need to link them to the original characters. If we don’t do that then our new characters may struggle to interact with the original characters.

We first decide who needs to know these new characters. Where we have created an assistant or a family member then they will need to know who this new character is, but there will also be other characters who will know something about your new characters.

In our example, clearly the Fairy Godmother will need some information to introduce Fairy Tulip, and Fairy Tulip may well be known by other characters as well.

Where we’ve told one of our new characters that they have interacted previously with an original character, then it is important to tell that character of the interaction. For example, we added to one of our characters that Prince Charming had told them that he was looking for a glass slipper (see Other People, above). It’s worth telling Prince Charming that he has asked Jack the Giant Killer about the glass slipper but that Jack didn’t know where it was.

When we give our characters guilty secrets, we make sure that another character either knows their secret already, or has clues that they aren’t what they seem. For example, suppose we decide that Jack the Giant Killer is a fraud and didn’t actually climb the beanstalk and kill the giant. In this case we might give Rapunzel some additional information that she recognises that Jack is really Rumplestiltskin.

Send your characters to us!

Once you’ve written your characters and used them in your games, please send them to us! If we like them we’ll upload them to our site (after we edit them a bit) and give you a free game in return. (Note that any characters you send to us become our property and copyright of Freeform Games, and we may use them in future releases, although we will credit you as author.)

Note on intellectual properties: We’re very happy if you want to include characters based on existing intellectual properties (such as Captain Jack Sparrow for A Dead Man’s Chest, or Harry Potter for Spellbound). However, if you write those characters up we will change their identities to avoid infringement.

Steve Hatherley

Telling lies in our murder mystery games

In some murder mystery party games you are instructed not to lie about the details in your background. This is because to solve the murder everyone needs all the clues – but unfortunately my experience is that some people can’t just help themselves, and they don’t always tell the truth.

We, on the other hand, are absolutely fine with people lying and fibbing in a Freeform Games murder mystery party. We tell our players up front what awful deeds their characters have committed and we don’t expect them to tell the complete truth in front of the other players.

Of course we do realize that if everyone lied all the time, that would cause problems for other people trying to fulfill their goals. That’s why we include in the game Information/Clues and Secrets. These can’t be lied about, because they’re printed. If another player uses an Ability to make you reveal your Information/Clue or Secret, then you must do so. Then the other player can see written down in black and white something that you might otherwise have wanted to lie about.

A Secret

Secrets – not lies!

The other balancing mechanism we use is that each player has incentives to be honest and open with at least some of the other players, if they’re to try and get their own goals achieved. So in general, you’ll tell the truth to your friends and allies, but might be dishonest to your enemies. Then by making connections, third-party characters will be able to piece the clues together.

Note that there’s a difference between your character telling a lie (which is fine) and you as a player lying (which absolutely isn’t). So for example, if someone asks you “Did you murder so-and-so?”, you’re quite free to say “No I didn’t.” But if they use an Ability to make you show your Secret, you mustn’t lie and say that you don’t have a Secret to show. It might sound like a subtle distinction when written down like this, but in practice players are able to understand that they must be honest ‘as players’ even if their characters aren’t always honest.

Steve Hatherley

Clarifying “Information”

We’ve had a couple of questions about “Information” lately, in particular what do we mean when an ability says something like “After talking briefly with another player, you realize that they revealed more than they intended. They must show you their Information.”

Of course it’s obvious to us – but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everyone.

So to be clear, when we say “Information” we mean the small nugget of information on page 6 of the character booklet (or on that character’s information card on our older games).

However, with our new game (Lord and Lady Westing’s Will, due soon) we’re going to try using the word “Clue” instead. If that’s successful, then we’ll slowly move our old games over to the new terminology.

(That means that the ability will say: “After talking briefly with another player, you realize that they revealed more than they intended. They must show you their Clue.”)

As for what Information/Clues actually are, they’re really just a clue to a plot. It’s something that the character knows that, in game terms, we’d like to see deliberately circulated around the game. (Sometimes they pertain directly to the murder, often they don’t. And sometimes they are red herrings. We’ve made that clearer in the new game.)

We created the Information/Clue mechanic because our experience is that some players like to hoard information. This can cause problems because for our games to work best, the players need to share information. That way when a player learns a key piece of information that they need for one of their character’s goals, they can act on it. If everyone hoards their information then plots can fail and our games aren’t as much fun as they should be.

We have found that the more you play our games the more likely you are to share information, so the Information/Clue mechanic becomes less critical the more experienced your group is.

Steve Hatherley