How to Host a Murder Mystery Party
Updated: Mar 11
Murder mystery parties are the ultimate immersive literary event. With a few of your most adventurous friends, you can become a character in a dramatic story and lose yourself in a world of vintage elegance and affluence, romantic entanglements and jealous rivals, secrets and deception. You'll challenge your powers of observation and logical prowess, and you get to dress up as well! What could be more fun?
NOTE: If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on YouTube instead, please CLICK HERE.
To begin, choose your favorite downloadable party kit. These are available all over the internet, and you can find them by searching on “murder mystery game” or “murder mystery party” or even “murder in a box” -- they’re easy to find. Yes, it's possible to write your own murder party storyline, but that's a lesson for another day. Today, we'll use a simpler approach.
I’m going to use “Murder at Pendleton Manor” from The Storyteller’s Cottage as my example in this video, but whatever game you choose, the instructions that I’m going to share with you will essentially be the same.
BUILDING YOUR GUEST LIST
The success of your murder mystery party hinges on the enthusiasm of your guests and their commitment to immersing themselves in the character they’re playing. The more passionate your players are, the more boisterous and entertaining the whole evening will be. So that means that when you’re building your guest list, you’ll want to reach out to your extroverted friends first! Choose people who aren’t too embarrassed or intimidated to exaggerate their character’s personalities and really ham it up.
Now, you’re not just going to throw a bunch of invitations out there and see what happens. This part of the process requires some finesse to make the party work right, and is accomplished in two steps.
First, your murder party kit will specify the minimum and the maximum number of characters you need to play the game, and which of those characters are required for the game to work. So your first step is to reach out to the maximum number of players and just ask them if they’re available on the date of your party. For Murder at Pendleton Manor, that initial invitation will look like the photo above. Chances are, some of the people you invite will not be available, and you’ll need to reach out to your B-list to round out your numbers.
Only after you determine how many of your guests can actually come, and you know you have more than the minimum and less than the maximum number of players, should you move on to step two of the invitation process, which is assigning characters to each guest.
Start with the required characters first, and match up the personalities of your guests with the personalities of the characters, which will be described in your kit. You can choose to match them perfectly, where you would give your bossy friends a bossy character, or you can match up opposites for comedic effect, where might give a shy person the bossy character if you think they’ll have fun with it. In many games, you also have the option of swapping the gender of the character to accommodate the number of male and female guests you actually have. Check the instructions for your specific game to see if the swap will make a difference to the mystery - sometimes you’ll have a character who has to stay the gender they’re written, in order for the facts to make sense - for example, a female who might be pregnant or something along those lines.
Now you can go ahead and send out your in-game invitations, which let each guest know who they will be playing, and those will look like this.
You’ll also attach a character packet for each person … For Murder at Pendleton Manor those are called character dossiers… and in many cases you’ll also include a contact list, which is a list of the names and email addresses of all the other guests. Your friends will use this contact list to complete their pre-game tasks, if there are any. These are essentially little mini-missions that encourage the guests to reach out to another player in character and try to get some background information on them before the party. These pre-game tasks are a great way for guests who don’t already know each other to start to interact, and it also builds excitement for the game itself.
You can print out your invitations, customize them with your party date and time, and mail them with printouts of the character packets, or you can email your invitations and attach the character files, in which case you’ll customize the message in your email to include your party’s date, time, location or Zoom room link, etc.