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How to Decorate for a Murder Mystery Party on a Budget

Today let’s talk about decorating for your murder mystery party on a budget. You’ve decided on your game, you’re excited to get into character and have all your friends over, and you look around your house or apartment and think, “Hmm, this looks nothing like a Victorian manor house”, or a Gatsby era speakeasy, or whatever setting your game story takes place in.

What can you do to make your guests feel like they’ve entered another time and place when they come to play your murder mystery game?

NOTE: If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on video with LOTS more photos,

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Clearly you don’t want to break the bank on an event that will only happen once, so today I’m going to give you three strategies to create an immersive space on a very affordable budget:

  1. Repurposing items you already have around your house

  2. Hitting up your local thrift store and what to look for

  3. How to make a few DIY decorations yourself

But first, you want to figure out WHAT DEFINES YOUR LOOK. Your game takes place in a fantasy world - what does that world look like?

You won’t be removing every single item from your house and replacing it with themed decorations – that would be insane. Instead, you’re going to intentionally highlight a few special items that EVOKE the feeling of your theme, and place them front and center so all your guests, who are already primed to pretend they’re in a fantasy world, will focus on those items and ignore everything else.

So you’re going to start by spending some time determining what really screams your theme.

For example, if I’m hosting an Alice in Wonderland themed event, the things that come to mind when I think about that world are teacups, rabbits, pocket watches, that top hat with the price tag on it, green grass and flowers, playing cards, roses, and bottles that say drink me.

All those individual items don’t mean anything special when they’re scattered all over your house, but when you pull them all together, it’s clear to anyone who looks at that still life that it’s meant to evoke Alice in Wonderland.

So for your theme, what you want to do is think about what 5 - 10 items really represent the world you’re trying to build. If your game takes place in a mansion, things like candlesticks or candelabras, silver trays, fancy glass decanters, top hats, even old books, when grouped together, telegraph that message that this world is fancy and old fashioned.

Or, if your game takes place in the Roaring Twenties, things like wooden liquor crates, black and gold dishes or frames, long strings of pearls, huge fluffy feathers, even boxes of cigars, all combine to give you that speakeasy type of feeling when you look at them as a group.

So open up your trusty Pinterest app and search on the theme of your game. You don’t even have to click through to each pin - just look at the search results as a whole, and you’ll see certain items that come up over and over. Make a list of some of those things - like teacups, rabbits, playing cards - then scour your house to see what you can come up with. Pile everything up on a table, and you’ll be surprised how much progress you’ve already made toward creating a themed look.

And remember, these items don’t need to be specifically branded to your fantasy world. If you’re playing a Harry Potter themed game, you don’t need to get a hold of Harry’s trunk and a Nimbus 2000 – you just need an old truck and a broom - and when you put those together with a couple of accessories, it will be clear what you’re trying to recreate. Everything in this photo is a normal item that someone contributed to our still life, with the one exception of the Hogwarts scarf. And you can see how together, it all sets the stage.

So now that you have your pile of miscellaneous decorations, what do you do with it? If you think about the spaces that your guests will see – probably your entry hallway and the space where you’ll play the game, whether that’s your living room or your kitchen table – you want to group your decorations into deliberate displays in the places that your guests will see first or spend time in. You don’t want to spread them all around because that will dilute their impact. If I put my one teacup over here and one stuffed rabbit over there and some playing cards on the table, it’s not as clear what I’m trying to say as when I have everything in one spot.

So depending on how your space is arranged, you’re probably going to have one fairly large display that people see first when they enter, one nice big display in the center of the table where you’re playing or eating, and a few other smaller displays dispersed around on side tables or covering up items that don’t fit the theme that you can’t move out of the way.