Writing a murder mystery! Part 2

I ended Part 1 with some criticisms about the structure of the lone murder mystery I participated in. To summarize, there was little replay value and incentive to go “off script”. I’ve discussed the matter with a woman I recently went on a date with. She’s a gamer herself and shared her own experience in a murder mystery. One “game play” element that was different in hers was the inclusion of secondary objectives for the characters. However, like in my experience, there was no possibility of different killers.

To resolve the problem with replay value, I turn to my experience with the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) and Dead of Winter (DoW) board games. Both are cooperative board games where the players work together to face obstacles or challenges. In BSG, each player receives a loyalty card at the start and halfway points of the game. These cards determine whether or not you are a saboteur (Cylon for those of you familiar with the TV show). DoW gives out objective cards to determine each player’s secondary objectives. There is the possibility of one character being a traitor working against the interests of the group. Think all the contrived personal conflict in the Walking Dead Telltale video game.

Following the example of these games, the killer will be determined by a secretly drawn card. However, since the players will be acting out specific characters, I prefer to have the secondary objectives to not be randomized as it can create very illogical matches or conversely, very generic ones.

The Premise

Before I bore everyone with a lengthy discussion on game theory and game play mechanics, I will outline the general premise of the murder mystery: Murder at the Red Dragon Inn.

I’ve been playing RPGs or role-playing games since my pre-teens. The number of games I’ve played can be counted on the phalanges of my hands and feet. Early Dungeons and Dragons adventures often included pre-generated characters for new players or to more easily establish context within the narrative. While some conflict is occasionally thrown in between the characters, this is more a role-playing suggestion rather than an intricate part of the scenario. Seeing as this is a murder mystery, this conflict should play a more prominent role.

The characters are a group of adventurers hired to acquire a statuette for a mysterious employer. The group is fairly inexperienced and have not been working together for a long time. The scenario begins following their return from the successful dungeon crawl with the prize in hand. They are to meet their employer at the roadside Red Dragon Inn. However, the group is not a cohesive one. After a lengthy argument, it is decided the rogue of the group will hold on to the statuette as he negotiated the job. However, during the night he is murdered and the statuette has disappeared. With no local authority or forces of law nearby, the characters must bring the murderer to justice, accomplish their secondary objectives, and decide what to do with the statuette.

The Characters

The characters will be a mix of the adventuring party along with the inn’s other occupants. Each player will be provided a small booklet describing their character, a brief opinion on the others, the explanation of the murder if they are the culprit, and a few lines of scripted dialogue to encourage interaction and advance the plot. I am debating the number of characters. The murder mystery I participated in included 8 characters. I feel that is a good number but some groups might struggle to reach that many. A variable number between 6 to 10 seems a safe bet to allow a standard role-playing group to run this as a one-shot adventure or a small party event.

I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoiling the plot for any of my friends who happen to read this blog. Here are some of the tentative characters:

  • Sir Brynden: knight-errant pursuing adventure to right wrongs, save damsels in distress, etc
  • Valerya: Barbarian princess far from her home in search of glory and plunder.
  • Regdan of Dumathoin: A wise and stoic dwarven cleric.
  • Melissan Swiftfoot: A gnome illusionist with a touch of megalomania.
  • The Cloaked figure: The presumed buyer for the statuette.
  • Innkeeper Wilhelm: Wilhelm retired from adventuring after taking an arrow to the knee and opened the inn.
  • Jemma: A local farm girl who works evenings at the tavern as a waitress (or wench if you’re seeking authenticity)
  • The Songless Bard: A half-elven bard who does not sing.
  • The merchant: A travelling merchant resting at the inn before the next leg of his journey.
  • Arissa: Jemma’s younger sister and the inn’s stablehand.

I welcome suggestions, comments, and debates on how to proceed from here.

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