Category Archives: Options

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 gamesThese 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.

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

Obviously you wouldn’t want to do this with children or 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.

Steve Hatherley

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 All 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 are skilled at picking locks. See the Host if you want to pick a lock.

Adding locations to existing games

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).

    Lockpicks

    Lockpicks

  • 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.

Steve Hatherley

Bit parts

Way out WestHere’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.

Steve Hatherley

Using props

Using props in Who Shot the Sheriff

What’s in the yellow bottle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottle of spiders

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

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

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

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

Steve Hatherley

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