Category Archives: Options

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.

Keeping Score

Every now and again we are asked if we have a way of assigning points to goals so that our guests can keep score.

We have never done that, mainly because in our experience is not necessary. We believe you can have as much fun in one of our games if you fail all of your goals, and making it competitive might undermine that.

(I do suspect that the customers who ask this haven’t played out hosted one of our games, as if they had then they’d know not to ask. But that’s just a guess.)

But some people do ask if it can be done, and one of our customers in Japan is going to try it out. (They run a boardgame cafe, so maybe their customers do like a clear sense of keeping score.)

So if your want to try this as well, this is how I would do it.

Out of ten

First, I’d divide ten points among a character’s goals. Most of our characters have 3 to 5 goals, and I would divide the points pretty evenly.

Where I can’t give them all the same points, I would give the easier goals more points than the harder goals. Obviously that’s a judgement call, and possibly a tricky one to make if you’re not as familiar with the game as we are.

I would do this for two reasons:

  • First, higher scores are more motivating. So giving more points for the easier goals means that your players will feel like they are getting somewhere.
  • Second, some of the goals are verging on impossible (I’m thinking of the ones where you are told to try and keep something a secret – never easy when we have all those abilities). So give those goals fewest points so that the player isn’t penalised if they don’t succeed in them.

But apart from that, I would spread the points fairly evenly.

For example, for a character with four goals, I’d give the two easiest three points each, and the others two points each. You can just write this next to the goal.

Murderer

Murderers usually have a goal saying something like “don’t get caught” which is a bit of a challenge given that we are playing on a murder mystery game in which solving the murder is a big part.

So the way I would treat that is to consider the goal successful if, when it comes to choosing who the murderer is (at the end of the party, before the solution is read out), most people choose someone else.

Other ways to score points

So that gives us 10 points if you achieve all of your goals. But I would also add other ways to score points:

  • Use all of your abilities at least once
  • Exhaust at least one of your abilities
  • Complete both of your tips for beginners
  • Talk to everyone in the game
  • End the game with less money than you started with (for those that don’t need money).
  • Reveal your secret to another characters
  • Reveal your clue at at least three other characters

Everyone should have five of these, and I would score them two points each. So everyone would have a maximum score of 20.

I have two reasons for adding these extra points:

  • First, they make it easy to score points. Unlike character goals, nobody will try to stop you from achieving these objectives.
  • Second, these activities are all actions that we want to encourage in one of our games, and doing them will make the game flow better.

Scorecards, explanations, and prizes

I would prepare a scorecard for each player, listing their goals and their scores, and the additional actions. I would include the scorecard in the character packet.

At the start of the party, during the introductory briefing I would explain the scorecards so that everyone can keep their own score. (I would trust the players to do that themselves rather than rigorously police it .)

Of course, once players are keeping score your are going to need a prize for whoever has the highest score.

Let us know

If you do try this out, we’d love to hear what you did and how it worked.

Your can reach us via our contact page, our Facebook page or through the comments below.

Investigating Pickpocket Crimes

Pickpocketing can be a divisive mechanic amongst experienced freeformers (although I’ve never heard any of our customers complain about it). On one hand it’s a useful mechanic for replicating a real-life skill (one that is thankfully rare); on the other hand it can be particularly demoralising to have spent all game trying to get hold of something only to have it stolen by someone unknown.

My experience is that some players hoard their items, and pickpocketing is a valid way of forcing items to move around the game. But if pickpocketing is so unpopular, what should we do about it?

I’ve been thinking about this, and solving other minor crimes, for a while. I wrote about it on my blog, following Shogun, a weekend freeform. Before that I’d written about solving in-game crimes, and about pickpocketing specifically.

And now I’ve finally done what I’d been promising myself I’d do – I’ve created an optional rules sheet for Investigating Pickpocketing for Freeform Games.

(There’s also now a standard rules sheet for pickpockets.)

How does it work?

The optional rules come in three parts – one for pickpockets, one for investigators (or detectives, sleuths, reporters), and one for judges.

Pickpockets: Those with the pickpocket ability get this:

They get one of these for each pickpocket use.

(The standard rules sheet has a sheet of these you can print.)

When a thief wants to use their pickpocket ability, they fill in name of victim, item to steal, and their name and then give it to the Host.

The Host then resolves the pickpocketing ability, and adds what was actually stolen (if different from what the thief was after). The host keeps the slip of paper.

Detectives: Give the following ability to detective-type characters – sleuths, investigators, police officers, and reporters.

So someone who has been pickpocketed can find a detective and ask them to investigate. The detective checks with a Host and plays scissors-paper-stone:

Host wins: The detective learns nothing.
It’s a tie!: The detective learns who was behind the crime, but doesn’t have definitive proof.
Detective wins: Proof of the crime! The Host gives the detective the completed Pickpocket Use slip as evidence that they have solved the crime. This is enough evidence to bring before a judge (see below.)

The detective can then go back to the victim with the news that they’ve either identified the culprit (and maybe even have sufficient evidence to try them) or that they haven’t.

Punishment: If proof of the crime exists, then the evidence may be taken to the
Judge, sheriff or whoever is responsible for dispensing justice. They should be given
the following slip in their character sheet:

As a guide, punishments should, if possible, improve a player’s game rather than detract from it.

Wrapping up

The intent of these additional rules is not necessarily to punish the wrongdoer, but to create more plot for the players by exposing secrets and shining light on dark deeds. Even if the culprit is known, the investigation doesn’t necessarily result in hard evidence that you can take to a judge. However, that shouldn’t stop the victim from dramatically confronting the pickpocket and demanding their goods back.

Not all of our games have a character suitable to give the sentencing guidelines to. In those games, evidence of pickpocketing can be dealt with during the game wrap by asking the investigating characters what they intend to do.

Big Money

I experimented recently with printing our money at approximately life-size, and it looks really good –  and feels much more like money.

This experiment was inspired by the photograph above from Way out West. Sent to us by Jaqui French, I was intrigued by the dollar bills. Those look like the graphics from our money cards, but printed extra large (they look about life-size).

And I think they look great.

So I thought I’d see what printing life-size money would look like for one of our other games, and as I’ve recently prepared and hosted Death on the Gambia, I thought I’d do that same.

The result is below – I also printed some of the normal money cards as a comparison. Overall I think they look much better.

All the money

If you want to do this yourself, here (at the bottom of this page) are the image files that we have used for all of our games so far. (As we add more, we’ll try and remember to add them to this page. If we forget, please don’t hesitate to nudge us.)

You may wish to print different denominations on different coloured paper – we’ll leave that up to you.

Printing the money

The easiest way we’ve found to print the money is to use the Windows print function – simply select the file, right-click, and select “Print”. This brings up a dialogue box (below). For Death on the Gambia I just selected four copies to a sheet. (I also printed them double sided.)

Money money money!

To download the files just right click on the image and select “save as…”. And enjoy!

Files from our customers

Kaye Anfield sent us these spooky $10,000 bills for use with Halloween Lies.

Kaye Anfield also sent us some old-style British notes:

Playing two characters

Murder at Sea
First class passengers in Murder at Sea

I recently played in UK Freeform’s annual weekend game. Last year it was Cafe Casablanca (Mo played and I helped run it). The year before we both played in The King’s Musketeers. And this year it was Lullaby of Broadway: Into the Woods.

As you might guess by the title, Lullaby of Broadway: Into the Woods was based on Broadway musicals – lots of them!

I played two characters – the baker (from Into the Woods), and an assistant to the King of France (a generic “flunky” character and good friend of Cinderella’s Prince Charming).

I’ve mentioned playing more than one character in passing at least twice: once when talking about creating a crowd and also when talking about bit parts. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about playing two characters in a bit more detail.

Playing more than one character at once

About 20% of the players at Lullaby of Broadway: Into the Woods were playing two (or even three) characters.

The reason for this is that the game was undersubscribed, and rather than cut out ten or so characters and rewrite the game, the authors asked if any of the players would be prepared to play more than one character.

And because I thought that sounded like fun, I said yes.

Busy busy busy

In playing two characters, I had no time to be bored. Both of my characters had plenty to do – and doubling up just made me busier. (This is a good thing – I like to be busy in my games!)

In terms of how it worked, I only played one character at a time. Other players could tell who I was playing by my namebadge. If they needed my other character, they just asked me.

One consequence of that was that I didn’t achieve all my goals – there were just too many for me to do in the time. But I had a go at my main goals – and I had a wonderful time doing it.

And as far as I can tell, so did the other players who were running two characters. In fact, from asking around, most of them enjoyed the experience and would do it again.

So given that playing two characters is a lot of fun, how do you make it happen in a Freeform Games murder mystery? I’ve put some thought into that.

Tips for giving players two characters

Playing A Heroic Death - a freeform games murder mystery
Superheroes plotting in A Heroic Death

These are my tips for giving two characters to a player.

  • I would check with the players first. I wouldn’t try this out with an in-experienced player, but if you’ve got a murder mystery veteran, they may enjoy the challenge.
  • Limit the number of players with more than one or two characters. I would only have one or two players (possibly three with a big game like Murder at Sea) playing two characters. 20% of the players with more than one character was probably a bit much!
  • Think about costuming. I was able to switch quickly between assistant’s frock coat and my baker’s apron. Depending on the game, switching name badges might be enough. You need to leave it up to the player to decide when they switch between characters.
  • Money and items: I kept money and items for each character apart by storing them in different pockets. (Although to be honest, it probably didn’t matter all that much.)
  • Selecting characters: I would probably use optional characters for those who are doubling up. I would definitely try to avoid giving someone two core characters (unless I absolutely had to). And while I might give someone playing two characters the murderer, I don’t think I’d give them a detective character.
  • Separate plots: You don’t want characters who are in the same plots. At one point in the game I got a bit confused between my two characters. It didn’t really matter, but most of the time the two characters were doing very different things which helped keep them separate.
  • Tell everyone! If you’ve got people playing two characters – don’t forget to tell everyone at the start of the game! And you will need to explain to your other players when they are talking to those with two players, they need to check their namebadge to see which character they are playing.

Try it for yourself!

So next time you don’t quite have enough players for all the characters in one of our games, maybe you can persuade one of your players to play two characters.

Creating a crowd out of unused characters

Note – this is a thought experiment for experienced hosts and players. I’ve yet to try this out – so I don’t know if it works.

There’s a style of freeform/larp known as a “horde” game. These normally involve six to eight “core” characters and typically dozens of smaller roles. The players playing the fixed characters stay with those characters for the whole game, while the other players take on the other roles, usually playing them for a much shorter period of time. It’s not unusual for a “horde” player to get through a dozen characters.

A crowd playing The Night Before Christmas murder mystery game
A crowd of players

A good example of a horde game is Victoria Junction: All Change Please! This was written at Peaky in 2009 and the six core characters consist of the staff of a railway station in Victorian Derbyshire. They have to cope with guests trapped in the hotel, missing travellers, troublesome orientals, a military train, and even a royal visit.

So is it possible to use the horde idea in one of our murder mysteries? I think it might be.

Creating a crowd

Let’s imagine that you’re running Murder at Sea and you have 22 guests. Normally you would use the first 22 characters, leaving 11 left unplayed. Murder at Sea works perfectly well with 22, and you should have a great time with it.

But if you’ve got some players who feel up to the challenge, you could create a horde (and I think I prefer the term “crowd”) instead. So cast the core 17 players as usual, and let the remaining five players play the other 16 characters. This is how I’d do it.

First I’d divide the unused characters into four sets of three characters and one set of four characters. Where possible, I’d arrange it so that linked characters are in different sets (so the husband and wife team of Mr and Mrs Dumlop are in different sets).

Then I’d give each of the “crowd” players one of those sets – those will be their characters for the evening. (So in this example, four of the crowd players would have three characters for the evening, and one would have four.)

If you wanted to, you could give all the ship’s crew characters to one or two players, which might help with costuming.

It’s likely that some of the crowd’s characters will clash a bit with each other. For example, one character in a set may have information that another in that set needs. That’s okay – it’s just something you’re going to have to live with. It’s doesn’t really matter if some of the crowd’s characters can easily achieve a couple of their goals – it’s not as if they will be short of things to do!

When starting the game, I’d introduce those playing the crowd and explain who was going to be playing which character so that the other players know who to talk to. (A cast list might also be a good idea.)

Playing the crowd

As someone playing the crowd, here’s how I would do it:

  • Play the characters one at a time, and keep everything separate. So I’d keep money and items separate for each character, and try not to get them mixed up. (But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they did get mixed up.)
  • Set aside a space where the crowd can keep the character packs, plus any costume changes they might want to employ.
  • Start the game by playing each character in a rota, one after the other, for about five to ten minutes each. After that I would then play the characters as needed – so for example when another player asks if they can talk to one of “my” characters, I’d go and change into that character.
  • I would remember to interact with the other characters playing with the crowd. It might be tempting just to interact with those who are playing the “core” characters, but I would try and make sure I talk to everyone.
  • I would also play to lose – by which I mean I wouldn’t worry if my crowd characters didn’t fulfil all their goals. In many ways I would consider myself as helping the host make sure that everyone has a good time. And besides, losing can be a lot of fun.

We have a “no deaths before a certain point in the game” rule to make sure that everyone has a satisfying game. For crowd characters, I might be tempted to remove that rule and let them be killed earlier than normal. After all, a crowd player has other characters they can then play, so being killed is much less of a problem.

Key to crowd success

The key to making the crowd a success is having players who are prepared to step into the role and try it out. I would only try it with players who have already played a couple of our games – I wouldn’t try it with newcomers.

Playing the crowd might also be a useful role for players who have played the murder mystery previously but still want to be involved.

Is a crowd better than a horde?

One of the dangers of a horde game is that they are very frantic. That’s partly because the characters in the horde are minimal – there really isn’t much to them. The sometimes consist of little more than a paragraph, and the expectation is that you will normally play them once and then move on to another.

Using unplayed characters may overcome that limitation, as each crowd character has as much information as any of the core characters.

But as I’ve said above, I’ve not tried this out. So if you do give it a go, please let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page. (And I promise that if I give it a try, I’ll report back here.)

Real-world alternatives for some of our mechanical ideas

We provide safe, simple rules in our games, but sometimes it’s fun to make those rules more closely align to the real world. Here are some examples.

A player in one of our murder mystery games

These first two are from Denise Knebel in the USA.

The secret cupboard

One of our games (I’m not going to say which) has a secret cupboard which is normally managed by the host. Here’s what Denise did instead:

I cleared out a drawer in my dresser for the players to use. I retyped the cards and on the secret cupboard ones, I wrote where to find the cupboard. It worked out well and because it was in an open place, those who had access to it had to be secretive about when they were using it.

Also, it was fun to watch when someone who didn’t know about it when they were spying on someone see them open it. At one point, the murder weapon made it into the secret cupboard! For what purpose, I don’t know but the guests had fun with it!

One of the delights in using real-world locations for things like secret cupboards is that you don’t know who else will stumble upon the secret cupboard. (That’s very unlikely to happen with a virtual location managed by the host.) But that’s all part of the fun!

Poison: Several of our games include poison. Here’s Denise again:

Since I knew all my guests were drinkers, I bought some sample-size liquors. I tied a note to it with the card information on how to use it. (Obviously to add some in a drink and hand it to the person). My group had fun with that, and it was funny to watch when someone took a drink and made a face. Afterwards, I would show them the “you’ve been poisoned” card.

(Here in the UK we call the sample-size liquor bottles “miniatures”.)

Obviously you wouldn’t want to do this with children, teetotallers or drivers present in your game!

Pickpocketing

Cafe Casablanca uses these rules for simulated pickpocketing:

  • First, give those with the pickpocket ability a sticker – one sticker for each pickpocket use.
  • The the pickpocket must put that sticker onto the clothing of the person that they want to pickpocket.
  • Then they must find the host and tell them who they pick-pocketed (and what they want to pickpocket).
  • If the sticker is still in place, then the pickpocket attempt is successful. Otherwise it fails.

I’d still allow someone to prevent pickpocketing with a “Not so fast” ability, but forcing the pickpocket to place a sticker onto their target means they may be spotted by another player. What happens then is up to them, of course.

Rules for Locations

A Heroic Death introduced a new concept for us – locations. And with locations comes rules for using them. We’ve since also use them in Lord and Lady Westing’s Will, and also the 7 expanded characters used for Murder at Sea. While each game will have its own specific location rules to suit that particular game, these are the rules upon which they are based.

Locations

Some locations within the game will contain important clues or items. These locations are not necessarily accessible to everyone (access may be restricted to those with a key or a special ability) and must be managed with location logs. The log is simply a sheet to track key information about the location – an example is below.

Location log
Sample location log

During the game, keep the log updated as things change. So if Cat Burglar sneaks into the room and steals the money, give her the money and update the log (cross off the money and make an entry in the notes to say that Cat stole the money).

Keeping the log up to date means that you don’t have to remember everything, and if you are using more than one host then the log keeps things consistent between them.

A couple of abilities that are relevant for locations:

  • Observant: You are very observant: if you spend extra time studying an item or area, you can sometimes uncover additional information. See the Host for details.
  • Pick lock: You can pick any lock. See the host for details.

Adding locations to existing games

Lockpicks
Lockpicks

You can, if you want, add these rules to one of our existing games. For example, you might want to create stateroom locations in Death on the Gambia so that the players have somewhere to hide their stuff. Here’s how you might go about that:

  • First create a log for each stateroom.
  • Decide on who can access each location – in this case I suggest whoever is staying in the stateroom, plus the Captain and the First Mate (you could make up some “Skeleton Key” cards for them).
  • Decide who else might be able to access the room – some of the shady characters might have suitable skills. You could create lockpick item cards for them, or just remember that they’re the kinds of characters who could pick a lock and let them do so when they ask.
  • Decide if any items start in those rooms – if you do this you will need to tell those characters that’s what you have done.
  • You might also want to create some blank location logs – just in case someone during the game comes up with a good idea for a location.

You probably don’t want to create location logs for every single location in your game – that shouldn’t be necessary. (We only do it for key locations.) If you do, then you might want to think about some help as the host – you could give your co-host the job of looking after the locations./p>

Bit parts

Way out West

Here’s an idea that you may wish to include in your game. (Note that if you’ve not played our games before, we suggest that you stick with the basic rules – but if you’re an old hand, go crazy!)

Bit Parts: Use a co-host or two to play the “absent” characters as bit-parts or minor roles. The co-host would play all of the “absent” characters, each of them in short bursts depending on what was going on at the time.

Tips for those playing the bit-parts:

  • Remember that you’re helping the host.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to read the extra characters.
  • Don’t play a single character for very long – you should be prepared to chop and change between the characters.
  • Try not to worry too much about solving your goals – your main purpose is to help the “main” characters with their goals.
  • Expect for any rules issues to go against your current character. After all, if that one is killed (or locked up, or has all their money stolen) you can simply take your next character.
  • It may be useful for you to know some of the rules (such as the combat rules) so that you can help the host when needed.