How to make the most of your murder mystery theme

So, you’ve picked your mystery, you have your theme, but what now?

Well, basically you can make as much or as little effort as you like. However, from experience, the more effort you make to get your guests into the mood, the better the event runs.

Invitations

This extra effort can start way back at the invitation stage. Most murder mystery kits come with printed or printable invitations, but why not do something that little bit different?

Make your own invitations in an appropriate shape e.g. a lip stick with removable lid which reveals in the invitation information written on what would have been the lipstick.

Not that crafty? Then why not simply print or hand write your invitations and stick on themed items e.g. newspaper cuttings, shaped confetti.

Why not send a bloodstained letter? It is a murder mystery after all!

Or (if you are so inclined), why not create a short film or record a tape – just let your imagination run wild!

Menu

From the host’s point of view the easier the menu the better as you will want to enjoy the evening as well. However, take some time to find a menu appropriate to your theme. If your guests are happy to help, why not have them bring dessert, or drinks? It all helps to reduce stress on the day.

And don’t forget, you don’t have to conduct the mystery during a meal. Why not run it during a wine tasting, or a barbecue?

The easiest gimmick to use at a murder mystery is to write out a menu themed to the night, and change all the names of the courses to something like “Dispatchio soup”.

Location, location, location

Which room?

Where you hold the murder mystery sets the stage for the party. Although you could go and hire a medieval castle, or book into a train for a mystery event it is by no means an essential! Often a few minor alterations in your home can add some simple ambiance to help get your guests in the mood.

Firstly think about which room you plan to hold the mystery in. Why not swap your dining room for the night and eat somewhere different in the house, e.g. a spare bedroom, or the garden?

Think about whether you should try rearranging your dining room furniture in keeping with the mystery, e.g. for a train event you might like to sit your guests at two tables with an aisle in between. For another you might want to remove the table and chairs altogether and sit on the floor. If your guests come to your house regularly even just moving the table so that it sits the other way around marks out your event as unusual.

Think about belongings that are normally in the room you use. Are they right for the theme you have selected? You might want to remove things which are out of place, e.g. for a mediaeval mystery you might want to remove or cover up the clock – they didn’t have them in those days!

Windows – most rooms have windows, but do you want to change your outlook? Why not cover them up and use an appropriate poster or picture instead? For example, for a ship themed mystery you might want to cover up your windows and make your own portholes with seascapes.

And don’t forget, this theming can start before your guests even get to your dining room. You might want to put a sign on your front door, or even create your own portcullis. Believe me, it’s all been done before!

Decoration

Some simple additions to the room used for the dinner party could make all the difference to the ambiance.

Firstly look around your own house and try and find things in keeping with the theme which you can arrange around the room. Secondly ask around your friends, you might find some other items to jazz things up a little. Thirdly, go shopping – but don’t buy anything too expensive, or that you will never need again. You may want to buy some themed gifts to give away as prizes at the end of the night, and you could arrange these around the room to help with the ambiance until the prize giving takes place.

And don’t forget there has been a murder in the house! You might want to set up the crime scene in one of your rooms or at least draw around an outline on the floor.

Music

Try and obtain some ambient music which you can play in the background during the event. Pick music which is themed to the mystery, or if preferred find some soundtracks of ambient noise and play them!

Table setting

It is always a nice touch to set out place markers. We did a blog post not so long ago on making the most of these, so click here to read that!

Some guests might like to keep track of clues presented and may like access to a notepad and pen. You might want to keep a stack of these on the table.

If your game has booklets (ours do but not every murder mystery company is the same) then why not theme the booklets and make your own covers.

Activities

You might want to make use of a few ice breakers during your event, though from experience, the mystery is usually sufficient to get people talking!

Try and find puzzles or ice breakers in keeping with your theme. For example, if on board a ship, why not get them to play quoits? For an art gallery, why not have them play Pictionary? If at a theatre, then what about a round of charades?

Other activities you might want to consider are wine tastings, or nosings. (These could be conducted instead of a meal.) You could get each guest to bring a bottle of red or white wine worth no more than a certain amount, and then together judge the quality and rank them according to your guests’ tastes. Or, perhaps everyone could bring a miniature of a different malt whisky and do the same! Though be warned this is a good method of getting tipsy fast, and no-one might care who did the murder by the end – though you’d be sure to have a good night!

The end of the night

And what about at the end of the night? Everyone has made their guesses and the murder has drawn to a close. Should it stop there? Why not give out prizes for the correct guessers? Not sure what to give out for prizes? How about these:

  • Useful items like fuses, light bulbs, boxes of matches etc, all gift wrapped of course.
  • Stationary items, like the ever useful post-it notes
  • Sweets you haven’t eaten since childhood.
  • Cheap toys – we never really grow up, you’ll probably find a yo yo will keep your guests amused for hours!

And don’t forget goodie bags! Kids never really grow up, and most of your guests, however mature, will probably love a party bag to take home! Why not find something in keeping with your theme and give out a small memento of the evening.

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Flexible and fun!

We contacted Red-Herring-Games for a party for a special occasion. Why going to restaurants to eat is the preferred activity to mark milestones is beyond me and my friends.   The choice of mystery was obvious, looking at the options from New Zealand on the web Red Herring stuck out from the international options.  A quick look at the site and games showed subtlety as well a range of choices.  The numbers you could have for each evening was important,  Red Herring had scaling options a good range of scenarios but most importantly were Jo and team being flexible, responsive and helpful.

Rachel McWilliam, Arts Development Officer, Lincs Inspire

Thank you Red Herring Games for the marvellous 'Murder!  Cargo Connections?' event that you organised for us as part of Museums at Night at the Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby. The whole evening went so well and was brilliant fun.  I know from all the feedback that our visitors had a fantastic time. It was really good working with you and I have no doubt that we will do again in the not too distant future.  

A. Nonymous (council employee)

I would like to thank you and your colleague for helping contribute towards our successful conference last month.  Everyone really seemed to enjoy the evening and it was rewarding that so many delegates were able to participate in addition to the main "Actors".  Our conference evaluation froms included the following comments:
  • "Enjoyed the evening entertainment!"
  • The evening entertainment was great and the confusion made it great fun!"
With thanks and best wishes.

Sarah Spencer (Cleethorpes Chronicle)

I had no idea what to expect before purchasing a ticket for Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, which was being staged at a nearby hotel, and feared it might involve taking part in some way. However thankfully for me no acting was necessary, just some amateur sleuthing. "Wedding guests" of which I was one, were called upon to move from room to room in the hotel in groups, questioning a number of possible murderers with the aim of solving the mystery of the dead bridegroom. The interviewees were really fun characters and gave us all some good laughs. Of course they all had motives and it was a case of identifying the shiftiest. The wedding theme was particularly good, as it fitted well with the venue, the buffet that was part of the evening (with a wedding cake in the middle) and the fact that everyone had been able to dress up to fit in without going to the trouble of fancy dress. I didn't think I had enough "evidence" to actually accuse anyone but later regretted not even writing down my first guess as it wouldn't have been too far off the mark. The evening was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it and take part. I would definitely recommend Old, New, Borrowed, Blue as good for getting even reluctant or first-time mystery party-goers involved.  

Alan Young (Personal Touch Mortgages)

What a cracking nights entertainment! We don't get out much nowadays with 2 kids and this was exactly what we were looking for in a good night out. Lots of fun with tongue firmly in cheek and everyone kept guessing whodunnit right to the very end. Would definitely attend another!!!!!  

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