Hosting Death on the Gambia

This is my experience of hosting Death on the Gambia, an interactive murder mystery game by Freeform Games.

I've written this to explain what I did and how I did it - and I've used many of my tips for hosts.

a murder mystery game

preparing death on the gambia

The first thing I did was to print out a copy of Death on the Gambia as I find it useful to have a copy of the full game to hand when I’m running a murder mystery game.

However, I don’t like wasting paper – so I printed it out at four sheets to the page.

I printed out the Captain’s Quick Reference Sheet at normal size as I knew I would be referring to that on the day.

I then printed out all the characters and their abilities and items (at normal size).

I put the characters and their items in envelopes (sealed so that the items didn’t fall out).

The other sheets (the newspaper, the rules, the introduction) I left in piles for the players to read on the night.

For name badges, I didn’t use the badges in the kit, but used sticky labels and hand-wrote each character’s name on those.

I started preparation a good week before the game was due to be held.

If I’d not run the game before, I would have started at least two weeks before so that I had time to familiarize myself with everything. (I don't like leaving everything to the last minute.)

guests and casting

I didn’t know how many players I would have until the night of the event itself.

That meant that I couldn’t really cast in advance.

In the event I had eight players, the minimum number.

It played very well with eight, and my experience is that it plays even better with more. (Death on the Gambia can cater for up to 11, if you include “Ginger” Roberts, Freeform Games' free sample character.)

We also didn’t worry about costuming. Some people had travelled some distance to play, and costuming would have been difficult.

In the end, I had five experienced players and three newcomers to interactive murder mystery games.

The experienced players were very experienced, while the newcomers were very inexperienced, so it made for a good mix.

I was initially slightly concerned about the newcomers, but once the game started they took to it like a duck to water and appeared to have a wonderful time.

food and drink

Death on the Gambia recommends finger food during the game, but we sidestepped this by eating before the game actually started.

As for drink, everyone (except those driving!) had a couple of glasses of wine before the game started, but once the game was in full flow most people were drinking soft drinks to quench their thirst.

Interactive murder mystery games require a lot of talking, so soft drinks are necessary.

Whether you wish to serve alcohol, however, is an entirely personal preference.

Death on the GambiaTwo suspicious characters

starting death on the gambia

I planned to run the game according to the suggested timetable in Death on the Gambia.

In the event, we started 15 minutes late due to a couple of late arrivals.

It was no great problem, though, and it just meant that the first part of the evening was 15 minutes shorter than normal.

My introduction was brief – I thanked everyone for turning up, quickly introduced everyone present (using just the one-line description on the casting sheet – which as I hadn’t cast in advance nobody had seen), and started the game.

The players seemed to get into the game very quickly, due in part, I think, to the “Tips for beginners”.

Even the experienced players found them useful as it meant that everyone had something to focus on from the start.

during the game

Much of my enjoyment from running an interactive murder mystery game comes from listening to the players scheme and plot as they try and achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, I was foiled some of the time as one of the characters is French and several of the players spoke fluent French!

decisions decisions

I had a couple of decisions to make during the game.

At one point one of the characters asked if they could get hold of any beads or other antique trinkets.

There’s nothing in the rules that covers this, so I applied Death on the Gambia’s three golden rules:

  • Is it fun? Well, I wasn’t sure what the beads were going to be used for, but it sounded like fun.
  • Will it spoil the game for someone else? At worst, the character might sell the beads to another character for some cash. So I didn’t think that was a problem (ie, it wouldn’t ruin another person’s game).
  • Make it up! It seemed reasonable that the character might have some beads, so I created an item card for that character and just wrote “beads” on it. What he did with them, I never found out.

Death on the Gambia is split into three sessions, two aboard the riverboat Christabel and a short break at Manso Konko.

By the time the break arrived, the detective had identified a villain that he wanted to detain in Mansa Konko. (Again, there’s nothing in the rules that covers this kind of situation – the rules can’t cover everything!)

As the rest of the game would be aboard the Christabel, if the detective had his wish it would ruin the rest of the game for that one person.

Luckily for me, before I had to intervene, the detective dashed off a telegram to his superiors asking for advice.

The detective handed the telegram to me, and I then wrote the reply from his superiors. (Death on the Gambia has some blank telegrams you can use.) So I told the detective to bring the villain to Bathhurst (the Christabel’s destination) as soon as possible – which meant back aboard and in the game.

(If the detective hadn’t telegrammed his superiors, I would probably have told him that Mansa Konko had insufficient facilities to keep anyone locked up.)

ending the game

I ended the game about 30 minutes before the suggested timetable as there had been a fierce shoot out between four of the characters that resulted in three players being knocked out and another two keeping busy watching over them.

(Death on the Gambia is an unusual murder mystery game in that while there are no murders at the start of the game, there are often murders by the time it finishes.)

I checked with the other players and as they had either achieved their goals or had no hope of achieving them at all, so they were content to finish early.

I therefore announced that the Christabel had arrived at Bathurst and the game was now over.

Following that I asked everyone to assemble and briefly describe who they were and what they were doing, and whether they thought they were successful or not.

Following that, all that was left was to thank everyone for playing, and to tidy up.

Overall I had a great time, and judging by the players’ reactions, they did too.

Disclosure: I wrote Death on the Gambia!

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