Halloween is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. It’s all about acknowledging that children are monsters, and about capitulating to the monsters with confections. It’s about being something else, and embracing the morbid, and celebrating that summer is finally over and isn’t fall gorgeous and maybe we’ll get some snow soon. And it’s a really good excuse for me to throw a big party.
This year marked the fourth annual murder mystery party, and it was the first time I went really traditional. Prior years have involved games full of political machinations and currency mechanics, games with color coding puzzles, and one year, a bubble universe that collapsed and killed everybody. I’ve done time travel and terrorists. This year it was Hellenic steampunk, omens, and good ole fashioned murder.
The premise for the setting was that, 200 years after the commencement of the Hellenic steam age, a major Athenian tycoon has been prophesied to die, just as he’s preparing to reunite with his estranged son. In this universe, where manufacturing has shifted Athenian lifestyle from its more agrarian roots, fall festivals celebrating the end of the year and honoring the dead, mangled by machinery, have become common. So Athenian notables gather at our tycoon’s home – everybody from the Mayor, to the Theban ambassador, champions of theatre festivals and chariot races, estranged family, business partners, and of course, the high priestess of the new cult dedicated to Kerytosis, goddess of the machine.
I kept the logistics for the game simple. The list for who had which part went out a week ahead of time so people could get a feel for who the players were, and start picking out suspects. (It’s totally the ex-wife. No, the heiress who gets replaced if he reconciles with his son!) Then I prepped a script for each part, seventeen in total. At the top I gave them a paragraph or two with a more detailed character description, a bit of motivation, and a few facts they would know. Below that were instructions, with time stamps, for particular conversations to have or places to be at certain times. Their scripts were folded to hide everything but their names at the top initially, and they could slide the bottom of the page down to each time stamp as needed. The only thing I had to do to keep things moving was set a timer and yell out the time every ten minutes.
Predictably, from a meta-gaming point of view, the criminals were the priestess and the sports champion. (Who else am I going to cast as villains?) It was all part of a conspiracy to instill a leader who would be friendlier to the new cult, and less likely to install faulty machinery. Nobody quite solved the mystery all the way through, but enough people had figured out significant chunks of it that I think I did my job. Especially since I resisted the urge to rent a crane, and drop a long lost cousin in at the last minute, to explain what was going on. I almost felt obligated, but managed to resist.
The real winner for the party, though, was the priestess. She really got into her part, and spent the evening proselytizing and soliciting donations for her temple. It was hilarious and amazing and did a truly excellent job of deflecting suspicion from her, even after the murder weapon was determined to be a knife only she would use. Second place went to the mad scientist, who showed up with schematics for actual greek machinery, “lodestones from China which might be used to manipulate forces,” and delightful rants about how the murder victim had stolen her inventions and implemented them badly.
Sorry to everybody who had a script too thin to inspire much role play. My oven decided to try incinerating itself during the prep and that rather threw off my game, so scripting was even more last-minute than I’d meant for it to be. Also, sorry to anybody else who noticed the absence of the traditional cheesecake. Mega-thanks to the people who, unprompted, brought baked goods. They were super tasty and you covered for my mediocre spread.
I’m not posting the scripts publicly, since I didn’t give people character names (a lesson learned from previous years) and I’m reluctant to post real names of friends on my pseudonymous blog. I’ll email them on request to anybody who asks.