Planning and forethought is required to successfully host a murder mystery party for a multi-generational family group. I recently did just this, and I thought I’d help others by sharing my strategies for ensuring this tricky social gathering goes off without a hitch.
If you are just getting started with hosting murder mystery parties and want a full rundown on how to run a one using a premade kit, check out my full review of Night of Mystery and “how-to” article here:
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Family-Style Murder Mystery Fun: Context of Content
First and foremost, I hope I don’t really need to say this, but everyone’s family is different. What may be totally acceptable with my family may be either outrageously boring or considered inappropriate by yours. You’ll want to adjust your content and delivery approach accordingly, based on what you know about your own family members.
I will say that my family, especially the older members, are not particularly receptive to content rated over PG. I also had children involved as young as 9 playing along. Considering these factors, I made sure to adjust and present material in a way that I felt everyone would be comfortable with.
To give you some additional perspective, the previous party I ran with my main Dungeons & Dragons group would be considered wildly inappropriate by my family, and I would never consider running that module for them.
What I’m Assuming is Already True
If you’re reading this article, I’m presuming that you have:
- Already wrangled together a group (or)
- Been chosen as the resident nerd to take care of hosting a party, as demanded by your family or group
- Know how many people will be attending, and their genders for character assignments
- Have a grasp on what will be fun and appropriate for the group
You’ll need these things before you can make the preparations for your murder mystery party.
What I Had to Do to Prepare
Find an Appropriate Mystery
You’ll need to pick a mystery and a theme. I am not affiliated with Night of Mystery, but I do like their kits. There are quite a few companies out there that create premade murder mystery printable kits for a party, so go with whatever seems the most fun for you and your group. If you’re curious why I ended up going with Night of Mystery, I talk about that at length in my other murder mystery host article.
You could also create your own mystery or modify an existing one, but this adds a considerable amount of time to what is already a lengthy commitment. You’ll want to go with something that seems fun and engaging for your group, and also won’t upset anybody. For example, if everyone in your family hates sports except for you, choosing a football-themed game may not be the best option.
Choose Characters and Set up Envelopes
Choosing characters gets its own section below, because this is the hardest part of the entire process, in my opinion.
Stuffing envelopes and preparing party materials can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the size of your group and if you’re making your own prizes. I would strongly suggest finishing this BEFORE the day of the party and save yourself a headache. Not that I have experience procrastinating on this. Twice.
If you want a more detailed overview of what I put in the envelopes and the setup process, make sure to check out the other article I have on hosting a murder mystery party.
Emotionally Prepare the Guests
After figuring out the logic puzzle of who will play which character (more on that below) you’ll need to get everyone excited for the party. Your job as the host is to not only organize everything, but ALSO build morale and excitement for the event itself. If you choose not to do this, you may find some of the members are less enthusiastic or too nervous to really have a great time.
Prepare Your Murder Mystery Party Group
I prepared my group by doing the following:
One Month Before:
Set the date, get a headcount and confirmation of attendance (RSVPs).
10-14 Days Before:
- Reveal the theme!
- Decide on food as a group.
- Text them as a group and explain that they will receive private, secret character information
- Explain some expectations to the group (but don’t go crazy and overwhelm everyone)
- Text each member privately and give a quick overview of their character’s backstory. I just skimmed the first part of their character information to give them a teaser. I also gave them ideas for costumes.
Below are screenshots of the actual texts I sent out to preface this event. The people attending this party would not be considered gamers, LARPers, or familiar with roleplaying norms. I catered my explanations to set expectations and help them feel comfortable, excited, and at ease about the upcoming party.
Assign Characters to Group Members
In my opinion, this is the most challenging part. You have a couple of options.
Option 1 is to read through literally everything, spending hours memorizing everyone’s character details (not my suggestion).
Option 2 is to read through the character overview host document and character objectives. This will still take you about an hour or so, but a lot is illuminated in the character objectives, especially romantic involvements. Reading through this material is not advised if you are choosing to play along.
Why Can’t I Just Randomly Assign Family Members to Character Roles?
I mean, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Each of these modules comes with a group of people who have complicated relationships and history together. This is why someone always gets murdered and why the puzzle is a challenge to solve; there’s lots of drama between these fictional characters. This means, of course, there is romance involved in many cases.
The Night of Mystery cases provide suggested genders and relationship statuses between their characters. In one of the host documents, you’ll find suggestions for which characters make good couples based on the story, as well as which characters are expected to be played by males, females, or are not specifically assigned to one or the other.
It can get awkward REALLY quickly, especially in a family situation, if you ignore this information and assign characters willy-nilly. How uncomfortable will it be for your adorable 14-year-old niece to be married in the game to your sort of weird, much older second cousin? That can be avoided by looking through the basic character details.
Sometimes there are relationship history details embedded in the character background stories, too. I have found so far that these are always referenced in the objectives and can be spotted quickly that way, preventing you from having to read every single thing.
In addition, more complicated characters should be assigned to players you feel will take the role more seriously and thus further engage the other party members. In the last event I hosted, I chose my best friend to play the role of the murderer, because I knew he would really get into his character and lead by example.
Conversely, I gave characters with simpler details to the younger members of the party. Night of Mystery includes a list of characters that can be cut without compromising the guests’ ability to solve the mystery; these are good roles for children. If they get bored, distracted, or decide to simply go play with something else, the entire party won’t be ruined by their exit.
Obviously you don’t WANT a portion of your players to just ditch halfway through, so I made it clear that they were important to the story (even the “throw away” characters are) and were expected to play the entire time.
Running the Actual Party
Running the actual party was a lot different for a family/multi-generational non-gaming group than it was for my Dungeons & Dragons group.
Here were some differences:
My D&D Group
- My D&D group is really into roleplaying and had no issue adapting to their characters before the game even started, starting tea in the group text in their characters and planning special events for during the party.
- My D&D group completed their objectives quickly and without issue.
- Despite my own mistake in not giving quite enough guidance for using the fake money, they adapted and had fun with it.
- My D&D group followed instructions.
- My family group had varying levels of comfort for the roleplaying aspect. It was a group of 16 players, ranging in age from 9 to 72. Everyone did dress up and had a great attitude. I prepared them for this, as I showed above.
- My family group had extreme differences in how they approached objectives. I gave them a loose 45-minute goal for the first set, and some of them decided simply to socialize and enjoy the party roleplaying aspect for the first 30 minutes or so, completely ignoring their objectives. Others annihilated their objectives within 15 minutes.
- My family group needed a bit more specific instructions both before and during the game, but they were willing participants and they did a great job with their characters (and yes, they want another game at some point).
This fake money from Amazon is so much fun to play with. I’ve bought some for every game I’ve hosted. Players love it!
Supporting Your Guests
A few times, I had kids come up to me and ask for help with how to approach one of the adults about a specific issue. For example, the Midway Manager, a 10-year-old girl, was supposed to accuse the Ringmaster, her (super fun and not creepy) uncle, of some nefarious activity.
She was nervous and didn’t know what to say, so I reminded her that he wouldn’t actually get mad at her, that it was for fun and a game, and I gave her examples of exact things she could say, word-for-word. This emboldened her and she was able to continue working on her objectives.
Remember that it’s your job as the host or hostess to help give your players guidance and encouragement so they feel confident and have fun throughout the event.
What I Did NOT Have to Do to Prepare
Read Everyone’s Minor Details
You do not need to know every detail of every character. Each person is the master of their own character, to loosely quote Chris Perkins. It doesn’t matter if you know the details of their backstory. I would consider this critical if you are playing along.
If you’re simply hosting the party, which is what I prefer to do, and a question comes up, here’s how you handle it:
“Hey, awesome host or hostess. I don’t understand something about my character.”
“Okay, fun-loving guest. What’s your question?”
“Sure, I can help you with that. Can I take a look at your character materials really quickly?” (They hand over their materials and you skim for the answer. If it’s not there, trust they aren’t supposed to know the details.) Respond with: “If you look here, you can see…” OR “This is part of the mystery your character is trying to figure out. Try asking some of the other guests and see what you can learn! Have fun with it.”
Manage the Menu
For the family group I hosted, we played a circus-themed game. I set up the group chat and told them to figure out the food, suggesting they work together to make sure there was no overlap. They were so excited to pick different circus-themed foods, and it was one less thing I needed to worry about.
Hosting a memorable party for a family or friend group is usually a fun and rewarding experience. It creates lasting bonds and memories that will be treasured for years to come. By taking the time to consider age, story elements, and other factors before beginning, you can ensure a well-planned party that goes smoothly and is fun for everyone.
Have you ran a murder mystery party for a multi-generational group? Are you considering undertaking this task? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
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