Throwing a Murder Mystery Dinner Party

By Jean D , last updated February 4, 2011

Hosting a dinner party can be nerve-wracking, and faced with this task, many people choose to host murder mystery dinner parties. With a regular dinner party, thinking of a theme, choosing food and ensuring that all guests will have something to discuss can make even the most experienced host break into a cold sweat. However, with a murder mystery dinner, the location of your "crime" will help you choose décor, food and drink, and your guests will busily solve the murder and get to know one another in the process.

Setting up a party like this can be time-consuming. You can cut down on the work by buying a pre-printed party kit, but you will still need to do prep work to ensure your party goes off without a hitch.

Set Your Guest List

A month prior to your party, send out invitations to your guests. Tell them you will be hosting a murder mystery dinner party, and that you need a firm head count. Ask them to respond and confirm that they will be participating in the game. If you already have a notion of the theme of your party, incorporate it into your invitations. This allows your guests to begin preparing for their roles, and building their costumes.

Choose a Theme

Once you have determined your guest list, you're ready to do the heavy lifting work of choosing a theme for your party. Commercial murder mystery games typically revolve around a time period and a place. Many are available to download or print for free.

To make your own game, study those free downloadable games to help stir your creative juices. Think of themes that lend themselves to food, drink, decorations and costumes. If you have a particularly creative group of friends, choose a theme that requires your guests to speak with accents. Choose a 1920s theme, and set it in Chicago. Or choose a Victorian London theme. Perhaps set your party in the Wild West in the 1800s. There are many options available.

Prepare Packets

Each guest who has confirmed participation should be sent a packet of information 1 to 2 weeks before the party. If you're purchasing or downloading a game, this information will already be supplied.

If you're making your own game, your creativity will really shine here. This packet will contain a short biography of the character that person is playing. To help our guest bring that character to life, write as many details as you can think of. Tell your guest the character's secret motivation, relation to other characters and physical appearance.

One person should be designated as the body/detective. This person will die in the middle of the game and emerge a few moments later to solve the crime. Provide instructions on when the victim will die, so the person knows when to lie down on the floor.

You should also designate your murderer during this planning stage. Write that down on the murderer's character card, and write down the name (and character name) of the victim. The murderer will spend the game trying to avoid detection at all costs. Tell the murderer when the murder is to take place. Tell the murderer that the murder will occur via poisoning. Encourage your murderer to bring a small packet of powdered sugar as a prop.

Keep a list of the names of your guests and the characters they are meant to play. Since you know who the murderer is, you can choose not to participate in the mystery part of the party. Or, you can act as a facilitator within the party and provide clues (or red herrings) for your guests.

Your packets can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. Ask your guests to confirm their participation again, and shuffle characters if your guest list changes. The party will not work if you have no crime to solve.

The Party

Decorate your home in keeping with your theme. Keep the lighting low, to encourage the mood of suspicion and intrigue. Play music that matches your theme, but keep the volume low. You want your guests to talk with one another, and be overheard.

When all of your guests have arrived, ask them to put on nametags with the names of their characters. Allow them to mingle, but ensure that they stay in character. It might be helpful to have all guests stand in a circle and introduce their characters, including one tidbit that might be helpful for others to know.

Ask your guests to sit, and serve dinner. Choose food that is in keeping with your theme. For example, serve fried chicken for your Wild West theme, or beef Wellington for your London theme. Encourage your guests to get to know more about the characters you've created. Ask them to tease out how the characters know one another. Encourage your guests to be flamboyant, and throw themselves into their characters.

Provide dessert for your guests. Ask them to retire to another room to eat their dessert. Your murder should happen in this interlude. The murderer will have to look for a chance to be alone with the victim's food. Work to facilitate that, if needed. Serve a dessert with a sugared top, such as lemon bars or pound cake, so the powdered sugar "weapon" will be more difficult to detect.

Tell the murdered party when it is time for him/her to "die" and leave the room, returning as detective.

If you buy a pre-purchased game, you may be supplied with specific directions on when and how the murder is to happen. Follow those rules, if you desire, or follow the sugared dessert murder outlined above.

Solve the Crime

When your detective returns to the game, he or she will begin asking questions of the guests. The goal is for all characters to try to clear their names and/or deflect suspicion. When the group has come to a consensus, reveal the identity of your killer. Or, encourage your killer to "come clean" in a showy display of guilt.

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