Category Archives: Options

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.

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.)

Steve Hatherley