Category Archives: Options

Using props

Using props in Who Shot the Sheriff

What’s in the yellow bottle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottle of spiders

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

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

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

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

Steve Hatherley

Being the Host and playing a character

Arabian Nights

Ismet and Kalila from Arabian Nights

Our games are designed so that one person is the Host and everyone else takes the part of a character. The host usually takes a minor role – often a servant. But what do you do if you want to play the game as well? Or if you don’t quite have enough people and you need to play the game as well as host it?

These are two slightly different situations but they have a lot of overlap.

Making up the numbers: If you don’t quite have enough guests for your game (or someone drops out at the last minute), you may want to take on a role just so that you can make up the numbers and actually host the party.

For example, Hollywood Lies is for 16-22 guests, plus a host. If you only have 15 guests, then you will need to take on the role of one of the characters so that you have the minimum number of characters.

Deciding which character you should take is a matter of taste – but we recommend choosing one that has least impact on the game. If you’re making up the numbers, this may be difficult because all of the mandatory characters will have some impact on the game. I recommend that you don’t play either the murderer or the detective (if there is one) as that won’t really be fair.

Wanting to take part: On the other hand, you may have enough guests to play the game, but you just want to take part. In that case you should take one of the optional characters. Again, deciding which character to take is up to you, but it should be easier to choose a character with less impact on the game as you will have more to choose from.

(If you’ve filled your party, you will have to write your own character!)

Impartiality and Playing to Lose: In both cases, it’s important to be able to separate when you’re being the host and when you’re playing the character. As the host you need to be impartial and you will probably need to make some decisions that affect “your” character.

We suggest that if you’re put in the position of having to make a decision that will either benefit or hinder your character, you should always hinder your character so that you aren’t accused of cheating! (In fact, it can be a lot of fun setting yourself up to be duped and swindled by the other guests.)

Also, if someone is having difficulty achieving their goals, you can help them. (For example, if one of the agents in Hollywood Lies is having difficulty signing anyone up, then you can sign up to them yourself!)

Tips for playing and hosting simultaneously: If you play a character as well as host a murder mystery game, please remember the following:

  • You will know who the murderer is so you should leave solving the mystery to your guests.

  • You will know many other characters’ secrets and problems – you are on your honour not to take advantage of that fact.

  • You will need to act as host for much of the time. Therefore you shouldn’t take a key role – leave those for your guests.

  • Don’t forget that as well as the host’s game duties, you need to think about catering and housekeeping as well. Don’t become so wrapped up in your character that you forget all of that.

  • We suggest that you shouldn’t expect to use any abilities.

  • Try to avoid playing characters that will become heavily involved in things like combat.

  • Make sure that you explain to your other guests at the start of the party that you are playing a character as well as hosting.

Steve Hatherley

Reporting the news

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!)

Reporting the news in a Freeform Games murder mystery game

Reporting the news!

Reporting the news: We have written a free extra reporter character, “Ginger” Roberts, that can be used for many of our games.

You can have extra fun with Ginger (and other reporters that may be already in the game) by creating a system that lets them actually “post” news items. Here are some ideas:

Headlines: Put some sheets of paper on the wall, and let the reporter write news headlines. For example, “German Ambassador is really a woman!” or “I’ve had an affair, admits famous movie star!”. A flip chart board is ideal for this – let the reporter post the headlines, and when the sheet is full you can tear it off and stick it on the wall.

News stories: If your cub reporters are keen, they can actually write out the stories. You could even provide them with an old typewriter for them to do this (although it might be quicker if they just hand-write the pieces).

Bylines: The problem with actually writing the stories is that the person playing the reporter may end up spending all their time writing news reports instead of playing the game. So instead of typing up a story, get them to write their name next to their headline – and tell everyone at the start of the party that if they want to “read” that story they should talk to that particular reporter to find out the details.

You can use any of the above to create some rivalry between journalists. For example, you can create a competition to see who writes the most news stories, or even a give a prize for the wackiest headline.

Remember to give the reporters a notebook and pen so they can jot down the facts as they research their stories.

Steve Hatherley

Interviewing absent characters

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!)

Death on the Gambia

An investigation during Death on the Gambia

Interviewing Absent Characters: Sometimes it can be useful for the detective characters to interview absent characters to eliminate them from their inquiries.

Here’s what you do:

  • When you’re preparing the game, print out all the characters – even if you know that you haven’t got all the roles filled.
  • Also print out the items and other handouts for that character – and put it all in that character’s envelope.
  • When the game is running, if one of the players wants to ask a question of one of the missing players, you’ve got all the information in one place so that you can answer the query. (This is easy if the detective has the “I’d like to ask you a few questions” ability as you can simply show them each characters’ Information/Clue.)

An advantage of bringing the complete characters to the party is that if you do get someone arriving at the last minute, you can easily get them involved by giving one of the spare characters to them.

Steve Hatherley

Rewarding great play

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!)

Here's a poker chip from us for "best beard" if nothing else!

Here’s a poker chip from us for “best beard” if nothing else!

Rewarding great play: You can reward great play when you see it. Simply keep some poker chips with you when you are the Host. When you see someone doing something really cool (which might be over-acting, good roleplaying, a fine costume – or anything else that you think is worth rewarding), then give that person a poker chip.

That player can then use that poker chip as an ability use for any of their abilities.

Remember to brief this out to everyone at the start of the party – otherwise your players won’t know what the poker chips are for!

Be generous!

Steve Hatherley