Looking for something special to do this Halloween season? A murder mystery is a unique and engaging way to elevate this haunted holiday! Plus, it's the best way for an aspiring Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple to test their deductive mettle. There are plenty of theater companies that run these parties for audiences, but you really don’t need to leave your house to get lost in a caper. In several easy steps, we’ll teach you how to throw your own murder mystery party from the comfort of your home—no bloodshed required.
1. Choose your mystery genre
Do you prefer cowboy crimes, medieval murder, or even a fantasy setting? There are plenty of pre-written murder mystery games out there for every taste imaginable, so it’s important to narrow things down by deciding on the theme you want to run with. That’ll prepare you for step two….
2. Select your game
Once you know the genre you want to play with, it should be easy to find a free template online. For instance, Michael Akers’ website has free downloadable assets for several mysteries. Freeform Games offers a sample free Western mystery, and psychological thriller author Ruth Ware even has a thorough British mystery murder pack available to download for free.
Don’t be afraid to search for mystery games IRL, either. This writer has found the kits for several delightful parties from the ‘How to Host a Mystery’ series at her local second-hand store, including a Star Trek: The Next Generation-themed one.
3. Craft your guest list
This is no ordinary party, and this must be no ordinary guest list. First, make sure that you know the maximum and minimum number of players that can join your intimate evening. The instructions at the start of your pre-written game should tell you exactly how many people can play.
Then, make sure you invite guests that don’t take themselves too seriously. Your party will be the most fun if everyone is enjoying their roles, so try and invite the hammiest friends you have. Use the Halloween spirit to encourage guests to dress up in character.
As a note, this and all following tips can also be tweaked for an online murder mystery party. It’s easy to transfer any of these games to Zoom.
4. Send out invites…
...and make sure you have clear instructions for RSVP-ing! You want to make sure that you’ll have the correct number of guests for your game, and that the invites explain each guest’s character that they’ll play, as well as any other expectations you have for them. For instance, do you expect guests to come in costume?
Once guests RSVP, it’s important to send them information on their character. If you’re using an online game, you can download a sheet about their character to send to them; if you’re using a boxed physical game, take a picture of the sheet or scan it, then send it to them.
5. Plan your menu (if you’re hosting an in-person event)
Depending on how extravagant you want to be, it’s not a bad idea to serve drinks, appetizers, dinner, and after-dinner desserts and drinks. Bonus points if your menu is themed to align with the setting of the mystery!
That being said, if you’re not a cook yourself, or if you’re concerned about budget, don’t worry—this doesn’t need to be a meal to die for. The mystery is the true focus here; as long as your guests don’t go hungry, they’ll likely be satisfied with something as simple as pizza.
6. Set the stage
If you’re hosting the party at your place, consider putting up thematically appropriate decorations. If you’re hosting over Zoom, this is a little easier: Just find a custom background that fits the evening’s genre—and make sure to change your Zoom profile name to your character’s.
7. Prepare for each of the rounds
Most pre-written murder mystery games are formatted in three different rounds, and come with a guideline of the average time all three rounds will take, usually at least two-and-a-half hours.
All murder mystery games are different, but here are the common beats you can expect to see.
In the first act, guests typically share clues and character facts that were included in the information you sent them with their invite. In round two, the victim is typically revealed, and the characters turn on each other as they investigate and strive to clear their own character’s name. In the third and usually final round, the host gives out pre-written information from the mystery kit about the role each character played—or didn’t—in the murder. Case closed; justice served.
8. Be a dazzling host!
Murder mysteries do take a little more planning than the average get-together, and as such it can be tempting to get stressed if you have a last-minute cancellation or you burn the deviled eggs. But remember that no one expects your party to be perfect, and most adults are just delighted to have an excuse to get dressed up and play make-believe. Don’t spoil the fun by getting hung up on details; it’s okay to let your little gray cells relax, and enjoy the ride.
Featured photo: Helena Yankovska/Unsplash