Category Archives: Tips for hosts

Casting a Freeform Games murder mystery game

Casting can be a dark art, so I thought I’d share how I recently cast The Karma Club and Death in Venice.

I ran both of these games during 2020, and both were held online using Discord. As with much of 2020, everything was done online—including casting.

Death in Venice – using Discord

What is casting?

Casting your murder mystery game means deciding who get to play which character.

This can be tricky, because everyone is different.

We include casting information in our casting table (at least, with our newer games—we are updating our older games to include this table). This highlights potentially problematic issues, such as where romantic or family relationships exist, and who the murderer is (not everyone wants to play the murderer).

This assumes that you know your guests. If you don’t know who will be coming, or you only know some, or you don’t know them that well, then the casting table is of limited use…

Form or not to form

For The Karma Club and Death in Venice, I used a Google Form for casting. I did this so the players could let me know who they were interested in playing. (And I hadn’t met some players, so didn’t know them very well.) Many of my players play a live-action roleplaying games and it’s normal for those to have simple casting forms.

Using a form made casting easy—I would do it for all games in the future.

My casting form

I created a form using Google Forms (you could use a Microsoft Form instead, or do it via email). At the top of the form I wrote a brief introduction:

This is the casting questionnaire for The Karma Club online game.

Please note that I will try and cast you according to your preferences, but I may not be able to give everyone their preferred role.

Also note that the characters have hidden secrets, and few are what they appear on the surface.

I need your email address as I am using Google Drive to manage items and money, and I need to share the folders with you. I won’t share your email address with anyone else.

For Death in Venice I changed the third and fourth paragraphs to say: Also note that I haven’t read the full game and I don’t know the game secrets or characters – that’s because I’m going to play as well. However, I expect the characters have hidden secrets, and some may not be what they appear on the surface.

I need your email address so I can send you the character sheets.

I used these fields for the form:

  • Your email address
  • Your name
  • Your gender
  • Do you mind playing a gender other than your own? (I don’t think this will be an issue, but just in case.)
  • Of the characters listed, which three appeal to you most? (This then listed the characters in the order that they are in the game cast list, with those details. The first selection was “I don’t mind who I play”.)
  • Of the characters listed above, are there any that you really don’t want to play? (This was just a free text field rather than another list. Sometimes it’s more important to know who someone doesn’t want to play.)
  • Is there anything else you’d like me to consider when casting you? (This is so your guests can tell you if they don’t want to be the murderer, or don’t want to be involved in a romantic plot, and so on. Although as it’s a free text field, you may get some odd requests.)
  • I would like to share online a screenshot/photo of the game being played. Are you happy for me to include you in the photo?

As an example of what that looks like, here’s my Death in Venice casting form.

Flagging contentious issues

Some of our games contain contentious subject matter—such as characters having an affair, or involving magic or the occult. I dealt with those when advertising the game to new players, but I could also have flagged that up in the casting questionnaire.

Issuing the casting form

A Heroic Death – online

Once you’ve created the form, Google provides several ways of sharing it (I imagine Microsoft Forms does the same). You can use a link, or email it out, or embed it as html in a web-page. As I used Facebook to organise my games, I sent all my players a link.

I sent the casting form link to the players about two weeks before the game, hoping that I would get everything back so I could cast and send character sheets out a week in advance. I had to nag one or two guests, but I kept to that timetable.

Using the results to cast the form

Once you have the results, it’s time to assign characters to players. Google provides the results in a spreadsheet so you can work with the data.

  • First, I looked for characters that only one person wanted to play. I cast them first.
  • Then I looked people who said that they didn’t want to play a character, and cast them.
  • Then, I looked at popular characters and cast them.
  • Finally use the people who don’t mind playing any character to fill in the gaps.

Tip – if you’re also playing a character (if you’re running and playing Death in Venice, for example), then I recommend being flexible in who you play.

With luck you can give everyone what they want – but if you can’t then I suggest contacting those players and manage their expectations.

Sending out the results

Finally, you need to tell everyone who they are playing. With each character sheet I sent out an email that listed the characters and who will play them, and any extra bits of information. For example, this is the email I sent for Death in Venice.

Hi,

I’ve now cast Death in Venice, thank you for completing the form in good time. Your character booklet and the game background is attached.

Here’s the cast list:

  • Jackie S is Mary-Lou Sinclair
  • Meera G is Célestine de Vincennes
  • Sara C is Tindall Nobbs
  • Stuart R is Daniel Setters
  • Dave T is JJ Kowalski
  • Jon F is Landor Hammond
  • Ahmed D is Courtney Keller
  • Jan W is Lyra Spark
  • Steve H is Cruz Vicente

Note I have a character and I’m playing. This means I know nothing about the characters other than the public information. If you have questions, I suggest that you hold on to them for now and we’ll resolve them after we’ve played. (As I can’t answer them!)

Please change your name on the Discord server to your character name. (I’ve changed mine to Cruz Vicente (Steve H GM).)

Abilities: If you can, print off your abilities and when you want to use then you can show them up to your webcam. If not, then you can either take a screenshot of the ability and post it in a message to whoever is asking. And if that doesn’t work, just read it out and we’ll trust you.

Clues/Secrets: Again, if you can print them off and should anyone need to see them then hold it up to the webcam. Or use a screenshot, or just read it out.

Announcements: There will be a few announcements during the game. They are to be read by different people (not always me), and I will send the announcement to that person to read out in the Common Room. I’ll then post the announcement itself as a jpg in the announcements text channel for anyone who wasn’t in the Common Room (you may have seen the background already in there).

Timetable: I plan to be online from about 13:30, and with a fair wind (and minimal technology issues) we’ll start playing at 14:00 and finish about 16:30.

I’m happy to answer questions about logistics. See you next Saturday!

Way out West – online (it’s been that kind of year)

Other ways of casting

That isn’t the only way of casting, and we’d be interested in hearing your ideas for casting in the comments below.

Using Discord for online murder mystery games

We used Discord when we ran The Karma Club and Death in Venice. It’s probably the most flexible of the video chat options, but it’s also the least intuitive.

This is a brief guide to setting up a Discord “server” (a space to hold your game).

The Karma Club via Discord

Advantages of Discord

  • It’s easy to create lots of game spaces for players to chat in.
  • Players can move themselves in and out of the spaces without needing you to move them (unlike Zoom’s breakout rooms which require someone to manage them).
  • You can easily see who is in which space, so you don’t need to go searching for people.
  • When you get into it, Discord is powerful and flexible.

Disadvantages of Discord

  • You can’t add a background to your video, like you can in Zoom. (At least, not yet.)
  • With lots of people, Discord can take up a lot of bandwidth. That can be a challenge for briefings if your broadband connection is slow and when everyone is in the same channel, it can be mitigated if people mute themselves and switch off video. It’s less of a problem once the game is flowing as most players will be chatting in small numbers.
  • Discord can be a bit geeky—there is lots of jargon and it’s not as user friendly as some alternatives.
  • The Discord app isn’t as user-friendly as using it on a PC. (So if you’re going to use it on a tablet, make sure you’re completely familiar with it first.)

Step 1: Sign up to Discord

First step is to sign up to Discord. I recommend downloading the desktop app (as performance is reportedly better), but you can do everything through your browser if that’s easier.

Step 2: Create and customise your server

A “server” is what Discord calls its chat rooms. To create one, click on the plus symbol “Add a Server” in the left-hand menu.

You will be asked whether you want to base it on a template or create your own. You don’t need a template, so click “create your own”.

You need to give your server a name and you can upload a photo if you like. (You can change these later.)

Once you’ve done that you will have a new server with one text channel called “general” and one voice channel (also called “General”). A channel is like a small chat room for a specific subject. Note that the voice channels also accept video.

Your server should look like the one above.

Step 3: Add more channels

Now you can rename or add your channels. (Click the + to add a channel. Click the cog to edit the channel to change the name or set other properties.)
For Death in Venice I set up these channels:

Death in Venice server – note the channels

(See our story about hosting Death in Venice for details on how I used them.)

To limit the number of players that can visit a channel at any one time, click on the cog (“Edit Channel”) and change the User Limit . Once you become proficient at using Discord you can create hidden channels and other tricks.

Step 4: Invite your players

To invite players to your server, click the down arrow next to the server name in the top left. You can either send them a link to the server or invite them directly if they are already on Discord. Either way, the link only lasts for 24 hours, so you may need to send it more than once.

Step 5: Change your nickname

You can change your nickname for your specific game server. For Death in Venice I changed mine to Cruz Vicente (he, Steve). If I was just hosting a game, I’d probably change it to Steve (he, Host).

I suggest you ask everyone to do that when they join your server.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to play!

Photos

Note that your Discord username is displayed on screen in the bottom left-hand corner. If you take a screenshot of your game to share, remember to crop that bit to hide your username.

More help

Here’s the official Discord article on setting gup a server.

And here are our tips for hosting online murder mystery games.

Hosting and Playing Death in Venice

Last weekend I hosted and played Death in Venice, using Discord for video chat.

When Mo wrote Death in Venice earlier in the year I deliberately kept away from it because I wanted to play and host simultaneously.

Normally our games don’t allow us to do that – the host needs to know too much about what’s going on, but as the games we’ve written for online video chat are simpler (there are no items or money to be managed, and no fighting), we’ve included a version of the instructions that lets the host be the player.

So that’s what I did. (I had planned to do this earlier in the year, but other events interfered… 2020 has not been an easy year!)

Differences in the two versions

When you purchase Death in Venice (and also Reunion with Death) you are given the option to download a “standard” version (like all our games) or a “Host as Player” version.

The differences are all in the instructions for hosts document (of which there are two versions – one if you are hosting as normal, and one if the host is playing). The “host as player” instructions differ as follows:

  • Casting table removes any plot information – such as who the murderer is, and other dark secrets.
  • The details of the murder and other sub-plots are omitted.

The only place where the murderer is revealed is in that character’s booklet, and also in the murder solution.

So to start with you should only read the instructions, the game background, and the quick reference sheet. Don’t read anything else!

Organising and Casting

I recruited players from the Facebook UK-Freeforms group (filled with enthusiasts who enjoy games like the ones we publish) and created a Facebook Messenger group for early game discussion.

I created a Google Form for casting, and asked each player to choose which three players they liked the sound of best, based on the information from the cast list. (I also had a “I’m happy to play anyone” option.)

I cast myself last, as I didn’t mind who I played. As it happens, I ended up with one of the optional characters. I didn’t do that deliberately, but I would do that again—I didn’t read my character until the day, and that meant that I could step in if we had a last-minute cancellation. (We did have such a cancellation, but I found a player from the waitlist instead.)

When I sent out the character booklets I stressed to everyone that I couldn’t answer plot or character questions as I hadn’t read anything. (I could answer logistics questions though!)

Discord

I set up a Discord sever for Death in Venice, as it worked well when I hosted The Karma Club. I set up individual channels labelled “Casanova #1” and “Casanova #2” so the players could have private chats. (I’ve described how to use Discord here.)

Death in Venice Discord server

We did have a few minor technical problems, but they were resolved either by closing Discord and restarting, or just waiting for Discord to resolve the problem itself.

I asked everyone to change their name on Discord to their character name – mine was Cruz Vicente (Steve, he).

On the day

I told everyone that I would be joining Discord 30 minutes before the start of the game. That gave us time to sort out a couple of technical difficulties, and some players changed into costume. (My costume was just a hat.)

As part of my initial announcements, I covered all the items that I had sent out with the character booklets (playing time, the fact that I couldn’t answer plot questions, how abilities would work, and so on). When I ran The Karma Club I had forgotten to do this, and I think this game ran a lot smoother because I went over the logistics again.

I stuck to the timetable in the game – we started playing at 2pm and finished at 4:30pm. Because I’d clarified that we were finishing at 4:30pm, I found that at the end of the game everyone returned to the main game “common room” with no prompting, so that worked well.

For announcements, I had them in a folder on my laptop. (They’re provided as graphics files.) I messaged them directly to the player who needed to read them out. Shortly after that I posted each announcement into the announcements channel on Discord so that if anyone wanted to go back and read them they could.

For abilities, Secrets and Clues, everyone had printed them out and we just showed them up to our webcams. That worked fine.

How was playing and hosting?

Playing and hosting worked fine. I was worried that I would get carried away by playing, so I set a countdown timer on my phone for each announcement. That gave me a reminder for each announcement so I didn’t forget them. (I should probably do the same when I’m hosting a game normally—they can be hectic.)

I achieved most of my goals, I had a good time, and between us we identified the murderer.

I think that given the choice I would rather either play or host rather than play and host, but it was definitely an interesting experience.

My Tips for Running and Hosting

So here are my tips for running and hosting our online murder mystery parties. They apply to both Death in Venice and Reunion with Death.

  • 30 minutes: Be online 30 minutes in advance to settle everyone in and help fix any technical difficulties.
  • Stick to the timetable: Stick to the timetable in the game, and let everyone know when you expect to end the game.
  • Go over the logistics again: Go over the logistics again—not everyone will remember them.
  • Cast yourself as an optional character: As an optional character you have the chance of taking a core character if one of them drops at the last minute.

Tips for hosting our games online

Note: We now include a guide for online play with all of our murder mystery games. That guide was largely based on these tips, although there’s a little more detail here. 

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. (Click here for our tips for setting up a Discord server.)

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!

Prizes Galore!

One of our customers, Kelly from Michigan, has told us of the numerous prizes she uses when she hosts our games. Except where noted, the awards are voted on by the players themselves and tallied at the end of the game.

“We usually try to get all the ballots in by mid-game, but since few obey, we accept them until we have votes tallied. You guys are right, it is a great way to wrap of the evening. People enjoy getting them, and the cost is minimal.”

The Reality is Murder - a Freeform Games murder mystery game

The Reality is Murder

Kelly does vary the awards depending on the games, but these are the awards that she told us about.

Best Dressed (“We used do best male and best female – now we are gender neutral and do the top three.”)

Best Acting (“Again we use do best male and best female, but we are gender neutral and do the top three.”)

Random Award (The person who added something to make the night more fun.)

Most Outrageous Player

Too nice to be a killer

Slimiest Suspect

Biggest Ham (Chosen by the photographer who they thought was the most fun when taking pictures.)

Best Accent

Biggest Badass (Used in A Speakeasy Murder.)

Best Dancer (“During Lei’d to Rest we had a mid-game hula contest.”)

Staff Awards: The party hosts chose winners for these two. You can use the most number of nominations from the other players across the other awards, or player who got the most points (see Keeping Score), or any other method you want.

Best Newbie

Best in Show!

Alternate Pickpocket rules

One of our customers, Rob from Canada, wrote to tell us about a variant for our pickpocket rules that he used.

Watch out – there’s a pickpocket about!

Here’s the text that he prepared for those with the pickpocket skill:

Your character has the Pickpocket ability. Your ability card shows what you can pickpocket and how many attempts you have during the game. Beware! Some characters have the ability to investigate pickpocket crimes, and even dispense justice if a crime is proven!

When you want to use your ability, you will need to do three things:

  1. Complete a Pickpocket Use slip.
  2. Place a sticker somewhere on your victim’s body.
  3. Show the host your ability card and give them the Pickpocket Use slip, telling them where on the target you placed the sticker (such as left shoulder, right heel, purse, etc.)

The host will seek out your target as soon as possible. If the sticker is no longer there, then you may have been discovered by your target or another character who saw you place the sticker. Other players have not been told what the sticker means, but you had better watch your back as they may become suspicious!

If the sticker is still there, the host will advise the target they’ve been pickpocketed and will search through their items, retrieving either the target item (if they have it) or some other random item. The host will then (as discreetly as possible) remove the sticker from the target and transfer the stolen item to you.

Stickers and Pickpocket Use slips will be found in your character envelope which you’ll get at the start of the game.

Rob is using our rules for Investigating Pickpocketing Crimes, which you can find here.

If this sounds slighting familiar, it’s because we talked (briefly) about using stickers for pickpocketing previously, back in 2014. But this is a much more detailed explanation of how that works.

Note: Depending on your players, you may need to consider whether using stickers needs their consent first. If so, then we recommend using our standard non-contact pickpocket rules.

From our mailbox: twins

Recently we were asked a question about having two people play the same character. (It might have been a mixup, and by the sounds of it the game was oversubscribed.)

Our answer was that while it was tricky, it was doable – particularly with the character she had chosen.

What we recommended was to make the characters twins.

To do this:

  • Give each player the full character pack, and explain that they are twins. (They can have the same name badge if you like – you could say that they look so alike that people can’t tell them apart.)
  • Tell the twins that they can work together or not, as they prefer.
  • Announce that the characters are twins that at the beginning of the game so that everyone understands what’s going on.
  • Don’t make any other changes – so don’t double up on (say) items that they might be looking for. Instead they will both be searching for that same item, and it either of them finds it, that counts as a joint success in the goal if they are working together (or a success for one and a failure for the other if not!)

In sides with distinct sides, creating a twin can unbalance things, but in this case it didn’t matter.

If you like the idea of trying this, here are a few things to consider:

  • It should be sensible for the character to be a twin – so we wouldn’t recommend twinning a parent, or anyone in a romantic relationship, or the Captain of a ship. That wouldn’t make sense.
  • We wouldn’t recommend twinning the murderer (!).
  • They shouldn’t have any unique items.

And of course, we don’t recommend doing this unless you absolutely have to – use all the characters (and free extra characters) first!

Note – we’ve not tested this – let us know if you try it out!

From our mailbag: absent characters

I am preparing Hollywood Lies and I have 27 or 28 students coming to play. Many characters are supposed to interact with a certain person, but they are character number 29. Am I missing something?

Unfortunately, running the game with a few characters missing does result in gaps. This shouldn’t be a problem as everyone should have enough other contacts that the missing characters won’t impact on the game too much.

However, if you are concerned that your guests will want to talk to the missing character, then you can do what I do and tell your players (during the introduction) that if they want to contact any of the absent characters, they can simply talk to you.

To make this happen, you need to print out all the absent characters and bring them with you. You can either have them in envelopes, or in a folder. Then, when someone comes up to you and asks to speak with an “absent” character, you can quickly scan the character sheet and role-play that character.

What you have to watch, however, is players who then try to “cheat” by using the absent characters to achieve their goals instead of interacting with the players present. I try not to let players do this – it’s better for everyone if they are talking and negotiating with the other players rather than with the host.

(For other ideas about using the absent characters, see here and `.)

How to Host a 1930s Murder Mystery Party (and get away with it)

(Guest blog post by Jessica Andrews, author of Death on the Rocks.)

Death on the Rocks

Death on the Rocks

Ok, I’m just going to tell it like it is: hosting a 1930s party, murder mystery or otherwise, is not that easy. Twenties is obvious – just cover everything indiscriminately in feathers and strings of pearls – and for fifties you can just bust out some pineapples and stick c
ocktail umbrellas into everything.

But the 1930s were a little sleeker and a little subtler; that’s why it’s my favourite decade and why you should definitely give it a chance too.

#1 Candles

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you cannot host a vintage party without enough candles to potentially burn your house down. Of course, you don’t actually want to incinerate your home or anyone in it, so I would suggest a) keeping the candles away from arm level to protect them from the wild gesticulations of your guests and b) putting something non flammable underneath them.

A good tip to maximise the light from your candles is to place them where possible in front of mirrors.

#2 Greenery

I know, not necessarily something you would imagine a necessity for a 1930s soiree, but believe me it
makes all the difference. Every Agatha Christie I’ve ever read seems to contain a – significant or otherwise – bowl of chrysanthemums (how does that even work?), but to be honest anything will do. Interestingly, I find potted ferns just scream vintage, and a good arrangement of classic roses also really adds the edge.

#3 Music

Even if this is the only tip you incorporate, I cannot stress its importance enough. The right music will immediately set the scene and make your guests feel more in character and more relaxed. For 1930s, think jazzy or sentimental and, if possible, crackly. You want your guests to feel like they’re in an old movie.

If you happen to have a record player and any 1930s records, this would, of course, be perfect; if not, YouTube is awash with vintage playlists or you can buy 1930s CDs online.

#4 Glassware & china

A party suddenly seems so much more vintage when the glassware and the china are old fashioned. If you happen to find some art deco style china in your local charity shop, amazing; if not, I really find anything a bit chintzy will do. And as for glassware, I have literally seen the shyest people in the world become positively RADA when clutching a champagne bowl or martini glass. I don’t know why, but it just works.

It will also make your event photos at least marginally less awkward on account of people having something to do with their hands.

#5 Backdrops & props

Let’s be realistic: it’s hard to vintage-ise your whole house without making some serious lifestyle changes and spending at least a month anxiously bidding on Ebay, so focus on just one wall or corner. Cheap art deco posters can be found online, and a wall of these will really add a vintage feel. And you definitely can’t go wrong with an old-fashioned telephone or cigarette holder for people to pose with.

I can guarantee you’ll end the night with some wall-gallery worthy photos of your party and a lot of happy guests!

Jessica Andrews

Jessica is the author of Death on the Rocks, our 1930s murder mystery set in an English village.

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.