Last night, my friends and I threw a surprise birthday/murder mystery dinner party for my boyfriend, and it was fantastic! In Part 1, I detailed planning for the party and the night of. This post Part 2 will detail how to actually throw a murder mystery dinner, including the script I used and suggestions for improvements if you decide to throw this! If you do use the same script, please comment and let me know how your event goes!
For the elaborate murder mystery dinner scripts, you generally need to chalk up $40. I was a little cheap and wanted to try out a free script. There are about ten circulating the internet and most of them are kiddish or for fewer than 10 people. I found Nick Breen’s blog post on his made-up murder mystery dinner script (Blog Post Link Including Full Script) for up to 17 people. This script was pretty basic and allowed for a lot of creativity from the guests. This is perfect for me because it was less prep on my end; plus my friends are quite creative! With a few minor adjustments, you can make this an extremely successful event! We used the script out of the box and had a wonderful time exploring the characters.
All of the guests are gathered at a casino in Las Vegas to watch a famous Elvis impersonator. When he goes on stage, someone shoots him. The casino owner (the host) locks all of the guests in the casino bar to find out who killed Elvis.
You can choose to have Elvis die and then start the murder mystery dinner, or you could actually stage a death at the beginning of the night and have Elvis’s ghost float around (or have a guest wear a mask as Elvis and then become a different character). It was easier to simply say Elvis had died, so we went with the former option.
Create a name for the Elvis impersonator that everyone knows or choose to call him Elvis. We ended up having a few different names circulating around for Elvis – Jason, Charles, then Jason Charles, then J.C., the former N*Syncer.
Please review Nick’s blog for the full character summaries. I’m not going to rewrite what he already has written, but I have numerous suggestions to make this event spectacular!
At least two weeks in advance, send out a formal eVite RSVP for the event. You need to have guests truly committed to coming in order to have the characters appropriate for the story. If a guest needs to leave early, then you can assign them a minor character that doesn’t really have any clues or add to the story (such as the UFO Believer). After the RSVPs are received, send out the character details a week in advance. This way your guests will have plenty of time to thrift store shop for costumes. Every person ended up getting really into it and dressing in character! From a seer sucker suit for the scuba diver/assassin to an army uniform for the gladiator to a red neck American outfit for the gun nut to a Newsies-ish journalist get-up for the investigator to a Jersey Shore cop. It was great!
Recommendation – Don’t send out the clues beforehand to the guests. Only send the backstory. This way you can add additional information throughout the night and extend the mystery a little longer. Keep in mind that this is a fairly basic script, so it’s not that difficult to solve if you have access to all of the clues.
There are up to 17 characters available in Nick’s script, and I had 13 guests. I chose the top 5 important characters plus 7 minor characters (I was the casino owner). I tried to choose minor characters that still had a good backstory. We used the following characters: Investigator, Gun Nut, Escort, Singing Coach, Recently Fired Gladiator Actor, Bouncer, Second Act, Dancer, Lawyer, Scuba Diver/Assassin, Retired Cop, and Professor.
If you want to make the mystery slightly more challenging, there are some opportunities to add a few more clues/backstory to the characters.
With the investigator’s clue, you know that Elvis was involved with a married person, but there are only two married people in the party – both men. With the escort’s clue that Elvis was not interested in her, you’re supposed to assume he is gay. If you want to add a little more intrigue, you can also have a married couple included in the party and/or make one of the women married. This way you’re a little uncertain as to whether Elvis was simply not interested in the escort or not interested because he was gay. I would make the Professor and the Bouncer a married couple (our professor was a woman; our bouncer was a man, and they are actually married in real life). The professor is a pretty minor character, but this adds at least a little more mystery. Both the professor and the bouncer were engaged in conversation together at the time of the murder, so they have an alibi, but that clue may not reveal itself at the same time as the investigator’s clue. It simply depends on how the conversation unravels amongst the guests. FYI – none of the guests originally put two and two together to assume that Elvis was gay because they were thrown off by a few “lies” made up in the backstory. You’ll read more about this below in Embellishments.
For the scuba diver, his alibi is talking to the bartender during the shooting, but there is no bartender character. That’s a little suspect. You can choose to purposely keep it this way, or you could have the bartender talking with the retired cop to give them both alibis.
Embellishments From the Guests (Not Necessarily Recommended)
Our most-guessed murderers were the scuba diver/assassin working in cohorts with the dancer or the second act. The greatest part about this is that all of these characters were originally written as minor characters! The guests did such a good job creating a back story, embellishing, selling their roles, and maybe even lying that they completely threw everyone off of the true clues!
The dancer somehow accidentally ended up creating a backstory that she was formerly married to the gladiator (who also was dishonorably discharged from the army hence the army uniform) and now was trying to get involved with Elvis. Our guests ended up thinking she had hired the assassin to kill Elvis out of jealousy. Based off this story, she became a pretty clear-cut candidate for murderer.
During the Night Processes
I had never hosted a murder mystery dinner party before, so I winged it with the help of my friends. We had a buffet style set up for dinner along with a very large space with multiple sitting areas. This worked out quite well for mingling. The problem with a sit-down dinner is not all of the guests can easily converse with each other, and this is KEY for all of the clues to come out. The guests are NOT supposed to go around shouting their clues. The clues are supposed to come out naturally during conversation. Things like “How did you know Elvis?” “What are you doing here?” “Where were you during the time of the murder?” are good conversation starters to get clues out in the open. It also was quite interesting for me to observe this happening because you see rumors get started. Someone retells something that they heard from another guest that may be slightly off, and then next thing you know the dancer ends up formerly married to the gladiator and whatnot.
Beginning of the Night
After the surprise, we gathered together in a circle and introduced ourselves with a teeny bit of backstory. I was very surprised to learn a lot about the characters because everyone developed their own elaborate backstories! The bouncer had been working for me for ten years; the escort named herself Jessica Lapin (Rabbit in French) and wore a red dress; the scuba diver had come from a trip in Vienna; and the lawyer had recently gotten the corporate account for the club. After the introductions, we mingled and ate appetizers.
Directly before serving dinner, I passed out the additional clues to the guests. I reminded them that these clues were also meant to be revealed through conversation. Everyone continued mingling and now the conversation focused a little bit more on problem solving and investigation instead of greetings.
For the most part, we stayed in character throughout the night. Every now and then, you broke character with someone you hadn’t seen in a while to catch up, and this was totally and completely fine! It was pretty easy to tell when you were in character mode and when you were catching up with a friend. I was quite guilty of this having already known all of the clues and the murderer.
I found it important in my role as the casino owner to make sure I asked questions to reveal certain clues throughout the night that had remained hidden for whatever reasons. I also liked asking “Who do you think it is so far?” and encouraged the guests to chat with characters they hadn’t spoken to yet.
I realized that with all of the additional backstories and flat-out lies I heard throughout the evening, the chances of people guessing the correct murderer were slim to none. We got creative with the reveal, and I actually highly recommend this now! We regathered everyone into a circle over birthday cake and ice cream. Before we started discussing who we thought the murderer was, everyone wrote down their guess along with the WHY and the HOW. Then, I had the investigator lead us through various useful information he discovered throughout the night, and we read off all of the guesses.
Initially, we had three primary suspects – the scuba diver/assassin, the dancer, and the second act. All of these were wrong! So, then we decided to go around in a circle and reveal the true facts you were given throughout the night. After that everyone was able to narrow the murderer down to the lawyer, gun nut, or singing coach, with majority realizing that the singing coach is actually the murderer!
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Nick Breen for creating the murder mystery dinner script and making it easily accessible! Also, I really really want to thank my friends for making the most of their characters and the dinner. It is way more fun when you have a crowd of people who really get into it!
Have you hosted a murder mystery dinner? What are some suggestions/recommendations you have?
Did you try Nick’s script? How did your night go?