“There’s been a murder!”
Murder mysteries have long been a staple in the movies, but murder mystery parties have only started popping up in the last few decades. They are fun, engaging events that invite attendees to participate, roleplay, and figure out “Whodunit?” Because it has many moving parts, planning this kind of event can feel intimidating, but we’ll show you how to throw a murder mystery party in just a few simple steps.
In this guide, you’ll learn to throw a murder mystery party as we take you through the event planning process step by step. Keep reading to uncover interesting murder mystery themes, learn how to write a script, find party-planning tips, and more. If you’re looking for ways to make your next party one that guests will never forget, you’ve come to the right place.
What is a murder mystery party?
A murder mystery party is a themed, interactive event, and party guests take part in the action. At the beginning of the party, a “murder” takes place. The host informs the group that one of the guests has been murdered (don’t worry, it’s not real), and everyone in attendance is a suspect. A murder mystery party is one big game; all the event guests are players. One participant has a secret—they’re a murderer—and other partygoers are tasked with figuring out who that is.
Although a bit too mature for children, murder mystery parties are fantastic for teens and adults. Adding a murder mystery theme is a great way to spice up a variety of social and corporate events, including:
- Birthday parties
- Halloween parties
- Family reunions
- Company retreats
- Team building exercises
Plan a murder mystery party for your friends, family, or co-workers, and treat them to a night they’ll never forget. Encourage attendees to dress up and play the part as they join you for a night of intrigue, deception, and excitement.
How does a murder mystery party work?
Although throwing a murder mystery party requires effort, organization, planning, and preparation, the event is straightforward. Guests are assigned roles—characters—that they portray throughout the event. The host provides information about the scenario at hand: the murder. They provide exposition, setting the stage and describing the era, location, and events leading up to the murder.
Players work to uncover clues, solve riddles, and determine who amongst them is the dreaded murderer. Typically, the player or players who solve the mystery first win a prize. The more invested attendees are in creating rich characters and willing to go all out in the game, the more fun the experience will be.
How to throw a murder mystery party
Whether you’re a professional event planner or planning your first gathering, anyone can throw a murder mystery party following these simple steps.
1. Choose a theme
Picking an event theme is a wonderful way to start the party planning process. Whether it’s a particular decade or style, your theme can help guide the process, making it easier to pick out decorations, invitations, etc.
Choose a murder mystery board game with a theme attached, or build your own storyline. There are many pre-drafted murder mystery stories available for party planners short on time. If you’re creating a unique theme, allow locations, genres, periods, fashions, and pop culture references that inspire you to guide you. Some of our favorite murder mystery themes include:
- Once Upon a Murder, a fairy tale theme
- Sin City Slayer, a casino theme
- Peace, Love, and Murder, a ’70s theme
- Mad Hatter Murder Mystery, an Alice in Wonderland theme
- Wild West, a western theme
- Wicked Winery Mystery, a wine-tasting party
- Gatsby Manor Murder, a Great Gatsby/roaring ‘20s theme
- Marvel Mystery, a comic book theme
2. Pick a format
Once you’ve settled on a theme, decide how event activities will unfold. When planning a murder mystery party, you may write a detailed script or participate in free-play mode. During scripted play, guests follow their lines, receiving cues and instructions that propel the plot. There is no set script in free-play, and participants can play their characters as they wish.
Will you have a few select guests playing key roles, with other partygoers watching and taking notes, or will all guests participate? We recommend delegating key roles to a handful of enthusiastic attendees for larger events, as too many characters can make the story hard to follow.
3. Write the story
Follow the format below to create a murder mystery story line and script that will keep your audience engaged.
- Outline the plot: You may add as many details to the murder mystery story line as you like, as long as they connect and point toward the conclusion. Before diving into the details, outline the main plot points that will push the story along, such as the actual murder, the uncovering of evidence, and the revelation of significant clues.
- Write an introductory script: Whether you use a script for the entire event or not, it’s important to provide guests with a compelling introduction to the story. Write a script that includes basic information that each participant should know, such as the context of the murder and the prominent relationships between characters.
- Develop the characters: Provide guests with background information about their roles and how their characters relate to others in the game. The more in-depth your character descriptions, the more participants will have to work with. Include a range of character and personality traits, such as:
- Family life
- Special skills
- Bad habits
A character description might look something like this—
“You are Pat von Walton, a well-known and wealthy businessman in town. While respected and admired by the community, a secret gambling addiction has wiped out your bank accounts and put you at risk of losing your home. Your wife doesn’t know, and you’d like to keep it that way.
Before arriving at this dinner and learning of your grandfather’s murder, you had planned to ask him for a loan. Now you stand to inherit.”
- Find your evidence: Determine which pieces of evidence will be included for participants to uncover throughout the game. Create a description card to accompany each piece of evidence, explaining why the material is relevant to the mystery.
If a small mirror were a piece of evidence, its descriptor card might say something like:
“Now old, tarnished, and broken, this silver mirror surely shone brightly at one time. A thick layer of dust covers the mirror, except in a few places, indicating the fingerprints of someone who placed it here recently. As you examine the heirloom, you notice a spot of blood on its heavy handle.”
- Craft the conclusion: Create a solution and write the story you will read to guests after the murder has been solved. The conclusion of a murder mystery party should make sense and reasonably match the characters, evidence, and clues uncovered throughout the game.
4. Select a venue
Decide where you’re going to throw your murder party. Are you hosting it at home or a special event venue? Depending on the size of your guest list and the intricacies of your plot, a murder mystery party can be hosted in many different settings, including meeting rooms, banquet halls, hotels, your backyard, or your living room. If you’d like to really sell the theme, find a venue that fits the vibe you’re going for.
5. Plan the dinner
Most murder mystery parties center around a meal, wine tasting, or another main event. Like the story, the meal can be as formal or casual as you like, with some murder mystery parties including a full meal, while others are set up like a cocktail party. Choose a food service style for your party and plan the menu. Work with a caterer, a local restaurant, or a venue with catering services to make the meal process a breeze. If you’re hosting at home, make sure you keep the menu manageable, or consider bringing in a caterer to make your life easier.
Decide whether alcohol will be offered at the party and how it will be served. Will there be an open or cash bar, or is it a dry event? Will you have a few bottles of wine and some soft drinks available on a table in the living room? Choose the bartending service option that best suits your function and budget. For example, a fundraising event may have an open, cash, or partial cash bar, whereas a corporate team-building event may not include alcohol at all.
6. Develop the details
With all of the big-picture planning out of the way, it’s time to start filling in the details and gathering items you’ll need for the big event. Work on fine-tuning your story and enriching the future player experience by:
- Assigning character roles. If you have theatrically inclined friends or natural performers attending, they may shine in key character roles while the rest of your guests watch their performance and attempt to solve the mystery.
- Making name tags. Whether your guests know one another or are meeting for the first time, name tags are a welcome addition to any murder mystery party. They will help attendees keep track of other guests and the characters they’re portraying.
- Gathering props. Gather the items and objects you will need during the event, such as costumes and props, like pieces of evidence. Pick unique accessories for each character, such as a top hat, tiara, or costume jewelry.
- Picking prizes. Select enticing prizes for the winner or winners of the game, like gift cards, complimentary hotel stays, high-tech gadgets, or tickets to a local attraction. Or go simple—the winner gets bragging rights.
7. Send invitations
Finalize your guest list and select invitations that match the theme of your murder mystery party. Provide key event details, such as the date, time, location, and dress code. Let guests know what to expect, and build excitement for what’s to come. If you want all guests to participate, send them plenty of information ahead of time—about the scenario, their character, the setting, dress code, and more.
8. Add the finishing touches
On the day of the event, walk through the venue and put the final touches in place. Add decorations, set the background music playlist, and double-check the party supply inventory. Work with vendors to ensure the layout, meal, bar, buffet, and other event details are in order.
Now, take a deep breath, and get ready to have a good time!
Helpful murder mystery party planning tips
Whether this is your first murder mystery party or you’re looking for ways to make your next party even better, you’ll find helpful tips below.
- Start small. If you’re throwing a murder mystery party for the first time, start with a small group of friends to minimize the planning pressure. The more parties you host, the more you’ll understand the rhythm and flow of the event.
- Assign roles thoughtfully. For example, avoid giving a quiet, timid person a boisterous, outgoing character role, as it could make them uncomfortable.
- Stay in character. Often regarded as the number one rule of murder mystery parties, staying in character helps make the experience more immersive and takes the event to the next level.
- Stick to the story. Follow the script you created to ensure things stay on track, leading to one inevitable conclusion.
- Host an awards ceremony. Celebrate everyone who took part in the game, even players who didn’t solve the mystery, with an awards ceremony. Offer unique awards for players and participants, such as:
- Best Actor
- Most Committed
- Sneakiest Spy
- Best Accent
- Best Costume
- Have fun! By nature, murder mystery parties are fun, casual events, so get creative with the theme, decorations, and characters. Enjoy watching guests comb through your clues as they try to pinpoint the murderer among them.
Now you know how to throw a murder mystery party!
Let your imagination run wild as you spin a tangled web of mystery and intrigue with murder at the center. Use a party planning checklist to stay on task, ensuring everything gets done on time and in order.