As part of the writing process for the Murder at the Red Dragon Inn, I’ve been researching other Murder-Mysteries to
steal gain insight on the format and how to go about writing one. In my research, I found a step by step guide. I decided to loosely follow the tips provided for my own.
- Read as many as you can to expand your knowledge.
I read between 20 and 30 murder-mysteries (I’m a prolific reader) and identified four styles or varieties of gameplay. While I don’t know if specific terms have been coined, it wouldn’t stop me from likely using my own. The four styles are:
- TL;DR:This was by far the least popular in the samples I read. Essentially, each player is given a series of short 2-3 page stories describing the character and his or her interactions with other characters or events prior to the actual murder. This setup is interesting if your players are both avid readers and dedicated to putting in a 100% effort. I know for a fact my friends are the former but some are definitely not the latter. I recommend it if your friends are big murder-mystery fans or are all committed 100% to the endeavour.
- Follow the script! The players are fed direct line readings for their characters. Depending on a person’s reading style, this will range from the monotonous or robotic with a few occasions of actually non-stilted speech.
- Elementary my dear Watson, essentially plays out with one character as the detective and besides the murderer, all the characters are foils or red herrings to throw him off. In very large group settings, this could work. I believe this is how some themed restaurants or shows do it.
- Au Naturel is a bit along the lines of the Follow the Script except it gives loose guidelines for what the characters should say. For example, it might suggest: “Flirt with X” or “Accuse Y of being a philanderer”. I didn’t read any murder mysteries with philanderers. I just like the sound of the word.
I’ve opted to go with Au Naturel as many of my friends are avid gamers who have experience playing role-playing games. I don’t think it will be too much of a stretch for them. Furthermore, I feel it encourages players to put their own spin on the characters.
- Get a notebook dedicated for your story/novel.Ostensibly, this applies for a real novel. As this is an interactive game, I’ll need different writing materials. Besides, it is the information age. Word will do just fine for drafting the story. My hunt for the player handouts will be covered in a future blog post.
- Figure out the basics.The “No shit, Sherlock” step. In part 2, I already introduced some of the characters including the victim. However, in the interest of following the steps and to increase the word count, I’ll answer the questions in this step:
- Who are the detectives? Contrary to what my first sentence might suggest, this actually gave me some pause. Should everyone truly be invested or motivated to determine the culprit(s)? I think some might but not necessarily everyone.
- Why were they murdered? Since I decided the murderer will be decided randomly for each game, I will have to write a motivation for each character. Thus decuple my work for this step.
- Who will be murdered? I’ve already chosen the victim to be the thief. Partly because it goes against the trope of accusing the thief of everything bad or fishy that happens to an adventuring party.
- What will they be murdered with? This will be a challenge as different characters will have different methods but at the same time, changing it too drastically will reduce re-playability once people figure out who killed whom in what manner.
- Does anyone discover about the murderer? This will be played out amongst the players as scenario is hot on the heels of the murder.
- Who are the suspects? Did they have a relationship with the victim, the murderer or another suspect? What are their life stories? Everyone will be a suspect by the very nature of it being drawn randomly. It’s very “meta” but I don’t feel it will hinder immersion. Instead, I’ll have to determine the above points for each character but this isn’t too much trouble.
- Lastly, who was the murderer? What was his or her sentence after trial? How was their relationship with other existing character like? Do not make the murderer too obvious. The last sentence is why I think Agatha Christie books are generally rubbish.
- Detail.Surprisingly, this is an area I excel at in my attempts to become a novelist. I’m very good at quipping lines or setting up specific scenes. Where I struggle with is keeping momentum and linking them together. The game will put some of the onus on the players which eases the burden on me as a writer so long as I do a good job establishing the context and the players are engaged.
- I’ll address steps 5-7 at a later time.