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An evening of murderous fun -- for free

For unique (and free!) entertainment, invite friends over for a mystery role-playing game.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 30, 2012 1:36PM
Logo: Spy (Corbis)Bored with board games? Try murder.

Having friends over for an evening of Pictionary or Scrabble is a great way to stretch your entertainment budget. But if the prospect of another Apples to Apples marathon leaves you cold, try hosting a mystery evening.

It's like a live-action game of "Clue." Each person is given a role to play and a certain amount of information regarding a fictional murder that takes place at your home.

Of course, it won't really be your home. Just for the evening, your living room will become an English manor, a winery, a rock club or several other locations noted in the mystery scripts available free for the downloading.

As a nation, we're obsessed with mystery/crime shows on TV, and mystery authors are always on the best-seller list. So why not try an evening of "CSI: My Apartment"?

I've done a couple of these myself, and they're a lot of fun. It helps if your friends have a love of mystery and/or a flair for the dramatic. Serious acting experience isn't necessary, though. In fact, you might be surprised how quickly your nontheatrical friends get into it.

"Who would not want to be someone else for a night?" says Elisa Hitchcock of OutCast! Productions, an Alaska-based company that stages mystery events.

You can buy mystery scripts online or at game stores; I've also seen them in thrift shops. However, you can get them for free at:

Murder Mystery Parties
Seven works set in such places as the Hollywood movie industry, a rock club and the inevitable manor house.

Whodunit Mysteries
One script, "The Sour Grapes of Wrath"; a second, "(Who's Buried) Under the Big Top?," is coming soon.

Just the facts, ma'am

Each game gives you a list of roles with enough information to let players create backstories for their characters. Send these dossiers to your guests well before the party, so they'll be comfortable in their assumed identities.

They can come in full costume, but Hitchcock says that even a small prop can make a difference: "A sheriff's badge is going to make you feel like a sheriff."
Most games have roles for six people. Your party could be bigger, though, since every mystery could use a few armchair detectives. If you prefer a more intimate gathering, let the characters try to puzzle out whodunit.

Plan for a full evening of entertainment. If you're not up for providing a whole meal, start your event at 8 p.m. and provide snacks. (Mystery meat?) Or make it a potluck.

Give each character a name tag, and encourage them to chat with other players while enjoying the food and drink. Knowing as much as possible about the others will help them come up with motives. It will also help them counterattack if they are accused: "Me? I'm not the one whose accounting firm had full access to the dead man's investment accounts!"

The fun part is in the hashing out of clues and evidence. If the players/detectives can't decide who's guilty, then the murderer will ultimately have to confess.

You could sweeten the pot with a small prize if the guilty person is able to mislead the others. (You should also make a mental note that one of your friends is a surprisingly good liar. Forewarned is forearmed.)

Incidentally, a character's dossier isn't everything. Kimberley Gray, Hitchcock's business partner, says guests should be encouraged to improvise. "When they're given the license to play, they can jump right into the character and have fun," she says.

Have you ever been part of a murder mystery evening? Any tips to share?

More on MSN Money:
Nov 5, 2012 8:01AM
We did this a few years ago as a potluck at a friend's house. We still talk about how much fun it was.
I bought an evening gown at a thrift shop ($7) and my hubby found a old style cutaway tux jacket ($8). We took photos that were hilarious and the ad libs of our really funny friends made for a memorable night. My friend and I split the cost of the game ($30) and because everyone brought food and wine, it was not expensive at all. Well worth the planning.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.