Category Archives: Options

Tips for hosting our games online

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.

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.

Lockdown Way out West

Following on from our last post about running a A Will To Murder in lockdown, we have another lockdown story – Way out West.

Paul Barnard used Zoom and ownCloud (a bit like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive) to run Way out West across five houses. Here’s how he did it.

Way out West across five houses

“With the Covid-19 isolation policies in place it was not possible for the family to get together for a face to face dinner. Instead we held the party using a zoom video conference across five different houses.

“I made images of all the items, Abilities, Secrets, Clues and Money. I created a “wallet” for each player using cloud storage (such as Dropbox) and provided each player with a link to their personal wallet that they could access from pretty much any device using a browser. I placed the item etc for each player in their wallet as a starting point.

Shared folders in ownCloud – one for each character, shared with that character’s player.

“With that all in place I sent around the character booklets, rules and general information ahead of the dinner. Game play went pretty much as expected with everyone on the conference, eating our various dinners and chatting in character. We had all dressed up in costumes, with one enterprising guest making a deputy hat from an Amazon delivery box.

“The big difference for this remote experience was that we used text messages for the private discussions and scheming. This really suited the younger attendees as they tend to do this all day anyway :-). A couple of the older attendees actually called each other on their phones and there was a bit of whispered background chat which had everyone on the conference straining to overhear.

“The participants were able to copy and paste their cards to the text messages when they needed to share them with others. For the secret stuff, like picking pockets, the thief did it via the bartender just like normal but again using texts. We used rock, paper, scissors on the conference just like we were face to face. It actually added to the intrigue when the bartender and one of the other guests started rock, paper scissors at seemingly random points through the evening.

“If things got stolen then the Bartender simply moved the item from the original players wallet to the new owners. This was achieved on a computer connected to the cloud storage folder. This worked surprisingly well as the original owner was even less aware they had been pickpocketed than if we had been playing face to face. A startled cry of “Where has my map gone?” 30 minutes after the pickpocketing again adding to the game.

Our timings were handled exactly as in the game handout and the evening flowed perfectly despite the need to type texts to many people. At the end of the game the opinion of everyone was “when are we doing the next one?”

“During these times of forced separation and growing isolation your game provided a great excuse to gather the family together for an evening that everyone thoroughly enjoyed and greatly appreciated. We will be purchasing another of the games shortly.”

Paul then followed up with some great tips:

Lockdown party tips

First create a wallet for each player. Use a cloud service like DropBox. I used ownCloud as I had an account for that already. A free account is big enough to hold the wallets. I created the wallets by making a folder for each player in the cloud storage.

We have a lot of girls in our family so I adjusted some of the players sex for our game. For each wallet create a share link. This is done on most services by right clicking the folder and selecting “Create Link” . This is the link that you will share with the guest playing that role.

I added the links to the invitations for each person. I created my own invitations as I needed to provide some help to people to get setup and understand how things worked. “ (See further below for Blaise’s invitation.)

“Second create virtual cards for the abilities, items, money, Clues and Secrets. I did this by creating JPG images copied from the pdf player booklets.

Important: The filenames for all cards must be uniquely named to move them from folder to folder. I randomly numbered all the items and money so that where they came from was not obvious (see picture below, for an example).

Ability filenames were numbered from 1 to the maximum use. (SuddenInsight-1.jpg, SuddenInsight-2.jpg and so on.) I then deleted the ability cards as they were used. (You could just have one copy in the wallet and trust people to only use them the permitted number of times.)

A Wallet – ability names greyed out. Note that the filename of each of the money jpgs is unique.

“Above is the content of Blaise Sadler’s wallet at the start of the game. I’ve hidden the ability names to not ruin the experience for other players.”

This is what Blaise’s locker looks like on an iPhone.

“If you want to look at an object you just click it and you see it.”

Third create a contacts group for the characters. As we used text and instant messaging for private conversations I collected everyone’s phone number and created a contacts group for everyone. Save the list as a contacts card and then attendees can click the .vcf file to add all the characters to their device. Sending a text now just needs you to enter the character’s name.”

Way out West virtual party invitation

Here’s Paul’s invitation to his virtual Way out West. He created a pdf for each player, with unique links to their Wallet (I’ve blurred the urls). I really like the way he clearly explains how the game will be played and what technology will be used.

Going online – murder mystery games in a worldwide pandemic

I’m sure I don’t need to mention the worldwide coronavirus pandemic currently underway, but please be responsible in organising a social gathering and make sure you follow the latest advice.

Playing Death on the Gambia before the days of social isolation

Some of our customers are doing that – and still hosting our murder mysteries…

A Will to Murder

Mariana who hosted A Will to Murder in self-isolation at the end of March.

She reports that “Everyone had a blast! It went really well. I think as the Lawyer I was a bit more busy than a typical game (not that I have one to compare by), because I had to be the one passing items between people.”

She’s explained what she did:

“I made 6 Google Hangout rooms, enough that at one time, everyone could be talking one on one. I named each room and posted a link to them. In chat, you could ask someone to come join you in the Library or whatever, but all conversations had to be in one of those rooms. That meant that people could walk in on people’s conversation, and you could see who was talking to whom, and as the Lawyer I could eavesdrop when someone used that ability.

“Items were in an ‘inventory’, a Google doc with people’s items that I as Host had access to and could move things around. It was a bit hectic keeping track of these things. I think I should’ve done a second host or fewer people (we ended up with 12 people so I added the optional characters).

“The only thing that didn’t work well is that we hit the limit of how many people can be in a Google Hangout at once (10 people). For announcements, there were roommates that could share a computer, but when a dramatic fight broke out, a few people didn’t get to witness it.

“Anyways, all in all a huge success. Two people left talking about doing another one.”

Mariana confirmed that she used rock-paper-scissors for combat (so as normal), and to poison someone “You needed to see them eat or drink while in the same room as you. In the invitation I had mentioned people might want to have snacks and booze on hand.”

(An aside – at some point soon Google will probably retire hangouts and replace it with Google Chat and Google Meet, which I’ve not used.)

Tech note

Give yourself plenty of time to sort out any technology issues before you start playing. Technology is wonderful, but we all have different levels of expertise and the various versions of Windows/iPhones/Android/Apple Mac devices don’t always play well together…

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:

 

Help with hosting

In our larger games we recommend an assistant host to help run the game. For example in Spellbound, it can be particularly useful to have another host run the library while the “main” host deals with the rest of the game.

Similarly with the larger games having another host to help with pickpocketing or combat can be helpful – particularly if the several players need the host at the same time.

However, some rules can be managed by the players themselves (perhaps overseen by a trustworthy player). For example, combat doesn’t require secret knowledge, or an awareness of the plot, and so could be something that the players manage themselves. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend allowing players to manage pickpocketing – that’s something a dedicated host needs to do.

Tips for players managing combat

Death on the Gambia

Death on the Gambia

Here are my tips for getting your players managing combat.

First, I wouldn’t get everyone to manage combat. Not everyone needs to know anything about combat – generally only the “dangerous” characters need to know something about it. so I would choose a small number of trustworthy players to become helpers. Ideally they would be playing characters that I didn’t think likely would be involved in combat to keep the relatively neutral in the conflict they are overseeing.

Second, I would share our standard combat rules with those players.

Third, I would encourage them to practice the combat rules before the party itself, so that they understand how they work and any problems and misunderstandings can be ironed out. Ideally I would do this a couple of days beforehand, but if that doesn’t work you could simply schedule a training session before the party. I would also explain that I wouldn’t expect them to adjudicate combat that they are involved in themselves – they should either find me or one of the other helpers.

Fourth, during my introduction I would ask the helpers to identify themselves. That way the other players know that they can ask them for help if I am busy.

Fifth, I would just keep an eye on combat during the game, just in case there are problems.

Sixth, as part of my debrief speech I would thank the helpers for their help.

Other standard rules

We’ve also included other standard rules, including capturing player and poison, but I think that it’s combat that has the most potential for getting other players to help with hosting.

Adding Skype and cryptography to The Spy Who Killed Me

We’ve got something a bit different this time – a story from customer Mark Lemay about adding Skype and simple cryptography to The Spy Who Killed Me.

Here’s Mark:

When I ran The Spy Who Killed Me I created two additional characters who were only contactable by Skype. The players playing the characters were remote from the party, and I had two hidden laptops at the party.

The two characters were spymasters – the Soviet Heracles, and the British ‘S’. They joined the party 30 minutes after it started (which allowed the other players to start playing properly). Neither knew about the murder (until they were told about it by their agents).

The Spy Who Killed MeI wrote full character sheets for the two spies, with background, goals and information about other people. The main difference between these characters and the other characters is that they would have to do everything remotely, through their agents.

Heracles’ contacts were given a telegram that said: “Comrade, We have established a secure line of communication. In the back of the kitchen there are stairs to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs go right. At the back of the of the basement I will be waiting. Don’t arouse suspicion. Be sure you are not followed. Heracles”

(Those players who needed to talk to ‘S’ were given a similar note.)

I also sent Heracles the telegram on page 17 of the cards file when the party started. The two agents texted me messages that they needed to send to their ‘agents’. The only way the agents to contact Heracles or ‘S’ was by Skype.

I set the Skype ringtones to the appropriate national anthem, and Heracles set his Skype up so that only a silhouette could be seen. Neither ‘S’ nor Heracles knew that there was another spy Skyping into the party, and none of the players (with the regular characters) suspected that their out-of-town friends would be making an appearance.

At about 9pm I gave Heracles’ contact details to ‘S’ so that she could try and trick some information out of him.

It was fun for the people involved, and went surprisingly unnoticed by the people who weren’t. The biggest issue I had was not making the strict deadlines of the party clear to the remote players. Also, if I did it again, I’d give ‘S’ a few clues as to how to trick Heracles (such as pretending to be an Indian spy).

Feedback from Heracles

My friend who played Heracles was nice enough to write up his thoughts on the experience:

It was always clear that my participation would be more limited than that of guests physically attending the party, but I still enjoyed my role. Like a normal character, I had secret knowledge, relationships with characters, and abilities. Despite my separation from the party, I felt that Mark gave me enough choices that I could still employ strategy and influence the course of events. I had a means of contacting other guests at the party, and an incentive to strategically hide certain information from some of my associates, which was fun to roleplay.

There were a few things that could be improved. I was slightly discouraged from speaking with guests too frequently, because Mark was worried that I would give away information too quickly and take them away from the rest of the guests. It turned out that I probably could have spoken to more guests, and more frequently. Because I was isolated I wasn’t entirely in the loop about the timeline, and when the party was ending.

Cryptography challenge

Instead of using the mechanics suggested in the instructions, I modified the item cards to have an actual encoded message – the message encoded with the reverse alphabet. I added an additional book to the library that had an explicit key.

This was the perfect level of difficulty and while one person solved it quickly, nobody took longer than ten minutes. Instead of disengaging from the party to solve the problem, the players could work together in small groups. It was also one less thing I had to referee.

swkm_book_160The encoded journal

I tried a similar puzzled with the journal, but I didn’t want it to be too easy. I used a different substitution cypher on each page (but following a simple pattern) and left out spaces. I modified the key so it contained the information to decode the text.

A group of ‘student’ worked together to try and decode the journal. They became invested in solving the puzzle. Unfortunately, it was a little too hard (especially after all the drinks) and I had to give them the solution after 15-20 minutes. I think It would have worked out if I had left the spaces in the journal.

(A note from Steve and Mo: We don’t usually include codes like these to our games because it can be very difficult to judge player expertise. We also know how frustrating it can be to play an expert in codes but not be very good at it yourself. So we make sure we have other rules for dealing with codes. However, we’re always delighted when our customers change their games for their groups and incorporate these kinds of details.)

Staging the scene of the murder

I designated one small room as Beth’s room (the victim). This was mostly decoration, but the guests got pretty into it. First I thoroughly cleaned the room so there was nothing distracting – just a bed and a desk. On the floor, I made a roughly human shape out of (clean) laundry and covered it with a blanket. I put the description of the body under the blanket in case anyone looked. I decorated the room according to the description in the instructions. On the desk I put an assortment of math textbooks, and small photos of the boyfriend and best friend character.

At the beginning, after the introduction I announced that, “Beth’s room is up the stairs in the second room on the left… the police have asked the scene not be disturbed. So don’t go up there and try to investigate.”

It was good because even though only a few people would have thought to ask about the details of the room, everyone went up to see the room. Except the murderer, who purposely stayed away from it the entire night.

The Russian memo

I used Google translate to make a very Russian looking memo with the names and addresses in English and the names in bold.

I hid the telegram in a book and added its location into the encoded journal.