How to Throw a Murder Mystery Party
If you want to throw a private murder mystery party for your friends, there are a number of ways you can do it. One way is to DIY it. You can write your own story, clues, characters, and evidence, and create an evening that is totally unique. This is quite an undertaking and is best suited for folks with time, ambition, and a creative brain. Is this you? If so, read on and we will walk you through how to make your murder dreams a reality. If this seems daunting, relax, you can always hire a company to do it for you. You can have an experienced professional do all the hard work and it's more affordable than you may think.
But if you are excited about creating this murderous evening yourself, let's dive in.
There are a ton of ways to structure and execute a murder mystery party, and it would be pretty crazy to go through all of them, but here are a few ideas that we have seen work well in the past.
1) Write the story.
Pick a theme. Everyone loves a theme party. and it's always fun to have your guests dress up. Do you want to make it a specific decade? Do your guests love a specific type of music or sports team? This part is truly just whatever. But make it fun.
Prepare to host. You'll need someone to lead the event, and this will likely be you, the one reading this post. You'll need a character for yourself and a way to justify why your character is so in charge. Are you a detective? Are you a rich heiress who has invited everyone to her home? What's the deal with you?
Decide who is dead. Who is the dead guy and why are they dead?
Write a story. Flesh out the world you are creating. What did the deceased do for a living? Who were their friends? Enemies? Why might someone want to murder them?
Decide who the murderer is. Create a character for your murderer and decide what their motive is. Also, decide how they committed the murder as well as when and where the murder occurred.
One thing to keep in mind as you create this event, simplicity is best. You may be tempted to get really deep and detail oriented with the story you are creating, but this is a party. People will be laughing and having side conversations. Not everyone will pay attention to every detail. If your story is too complicated, people will be confused. Create a simple narrative and distinct characters with clear motivations and justifications for their behavior. Your guests will thank you for it.
2) Create the characters.
Invent the other characters. Make sure you create at least one character for each of your guests. Write character descriptions for each one including personality traits, job, any other personal details, and information about how they knew the deceased. You can also include information they may know about the other characters or specifics of their personal relationship with the other characters. Be sure to decide why all of the characters have gathered together to solve this case. Were they invited to a mansion by a mysterious figure? Is this part of a formal police investigation? Is this just a run-of-the-mill party gone awry? You'll need to create a world in which it makes sense for all of these people to be in the same place.
You will eventually assign each of the characters, including the murderer, to each of your guests. Your guests will hopefully commit to their characters throughout the evening. You can decide whether or not you want to let the murderer know that they are in fact the murderer at the beginning of the game. This is information you could include in the character descriptions or leave it out. You may want this person to have this information throughout the game, or let them be as surprised as everyone else when the information is finally revealed.
Decide who your alternate suspects will be and why they may have had a motive for murder. It is always a good idea to include several other suspects with a motive at the party. You want to have at least a few red herrings. You'll then need to decide how these alternate suspects are eventually cleared. Is proof of an alibi for each of them ultimately uncovered? Is information revealed that clears them in some other way?
3) Compile the evidence.
This is where things can start to get complicated (and fun). You'll need to create a trail of evidence that ultimately leads to the killer. Have this evidence to point the finger of suspicion at the murderer as well as your other alternate suspects. You want to keep your guests guessing throughout the evening. Perhaps the evidence also clears each of your suspects one by one until the true killer is revealed.
You will then need to decide how this evidence is uncovered. There are an infinite number of ways you could disseminate this information, so feel free to get creative, but here are two ideas to get you started.
1) Maybe the killer or someone who knows who the killer is has left an elaborate trail of clues and puzzles (escape room style) that will ultimately expose their identity. This trail should also reveal bits of information about the murder slowly throughout the game. You'll also need to decide why this person has done this. Are they taunting the police? Trying to get attention? Are they passionate about puzzles and just having a good time? It can be silly, this is a murder mystery game after all.
2) Maybe the characters have information about each other or pieces of evidence that are revealed piece by piece throughout the game. One way you could do this is to give each of your characters a series of envelopes, which, when opened one at a time, give them instructions about who to talk to, what questions to ask, what information to reveal, and to whom. You would need to be careful to instruct your guests when to read which bits of information so as to control the flow of the game.
AT THE PARTY:
Now that you have your story written, characters created, and evidence compiled, it's time to plan how the evening will actually unfold.
After letting your guests settle in, you will need to assign characters to each of them and distribute their character information envelopes (name tags are helpful too). Inside each envelope will be the character descriptions you created for that character, as well as the information you want that character to know. Again, if you have decided to include multiple envelopes with information you want to be revealed later in the game, be sure to hold these back or be clear with your guests about when they are to open which envelopes and reveal the information inside.
You'll then need to have everyone pay attention as you (in character as the host), explain what is going on. Be sure to include all the information about who was murdered and what is known about the murder so far. Also, be sure to remind your guests of why they have all gathered and what their shared relationship is.
Next, you will have each of your guests introduce themselves by reading their character descriptions aloud to the group. It is important that everyone knows who each other is to get the game started. This is also a fun icebreaker moment that allows guests to get into character and have fun.
Now the game begins.
There are many ways you can organize the evening, but one idea is to break the evening into "acts" to give the game some structure.
A three-act evening might look something like this.
Get things started by disclosing an initial piece of evidence to the group. If you have created an escape room-style trail of clues and puzzles the group will solve together, you can let them take the lead. Your role will then be to guide them along the way and keep them on track. If you have created a game in which clues are revealed via gossip and questioning, it's a good idea to do this in stages. Give your guests this time to mingle, drink, and snack, with specific instructions about who to talk to and what to say. In either scenario, guests will uncover information that casts suspicion on several characters in the game.
It's a good idea to take a break after each act to unpack what everyone has learned. Things can get confusing and not everyone will be privy to all the information revealed. This is a good time to sit down and give everyone the opportunity to share what they know. You, as the host, can then summarize the findings to the group to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Now you can get back to the game. This act will work in the same way as act one, with additional information being revealed. If you have them, now may be a good time to instruct your guests to open their additional envelopes and reveal additional information. In this next act, the clues that are revealed should begin to exonerate a few of the characters. You want to start to pare down the group of suspects and zero in on the killer.
Again, come together and unpack what you have learned.
This act will work in the same way as the previous two, but this time, it will result in the big reveal. By the end of this act, everyone should know who the murderer is, how they committed the murder, and why. You can decide how you want to do this. Do you want this information to be revealed all at once to the whole group? Do you want to give everyone the opportunity to guess or make accusations? However you decide to make this happen, things can start to get chaotic here. This is why you, as the host, need to be in control of how things unfold. Try to add a bit of flair or drama to the big moment. Everything has been leading up to this, so you don't want it to fall flat. Make sure to reiterate the final bits of information to the entire group so no one is confused or wondering what happened. You should end the evening with a round of applause, a music cue, or a celebration.
At this moment, one of your guests has been revealed to be a murderer. Give this person a moment to shine, and an opportunity to make a statement. An additional prewritten character card may be a good thing to provide them so they have a script to follow. This can also provide a bit of additional information and closure to the evening.
And you're done. Congratulations. What now?
You've presumably invited your guests here because they are friends or co-workers. So now, let everyone party.
If you have read this entire post and are thinking, "Wow, I am so excited to do this murder thing", great! We are so happy and hope you have a blast.
If you have read this entire post and are thinking "Wow, I don't really feel like doing this after all". No problem! If you live in the NYC area, let us come to your home and do it for you. Purple Crayon Immersive is an immersive theater company that has created a pretty epic '90s Murder Mystery Party. We can totally bring it to your next party. We'll even bring a professional improv actor to your home to host it for you. So you can just relax and play.
In any case, good luck with this party! Make sure you have good snacks. It will be a success.