Casting your murder mystery game

This article explains how to decide who should play which character.

Two players enjoying Hollywood Lies murder mystery gameI cast this murder mystery game randomly

Who and When?

There are two aspects to casting your murder mystery game - who you cast and when you cast.

I'm going to answer both...

who you cast in your murder mystery game

When faced with a list of up to 40 characters in a murder mystery party, it can be difficult knowing which of your guests should be playing which characters.

Do you assign characters to people that match up with their real personalities?

Or do you give them a character very different to their own so that they can get lost in the fantasy?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that there is no "magic" way for casting...

But here's how I approach casting.

I have two methods for casting - random selection and letting my guests choose which character they would like.

casting randomly

To cast randomly I separate the characters into male characters and female characters.

(I divide gender-neutral, or unisex, characters between the two piles depending on my actual guest-list.)

I then assign the characters completely at random..

Surprisingly, this method of casting works 90% of the time.

The 10% of the time when it doesn't work is when you have a player who just doesn't "get it" - and they get one of the crucial roles.

Or they're so shy that they find it hard to interact with everyone else.

So if there's a danger of this happening, this is what I do:

  • If there are any obviously extrovert people in your party, cast them in the "larger than life" roles - they are inevitable one of the core roles.
  • If, on the other hand, you have some very introverted people coming, give them a more minor role.

Age problems with random casting

One problem you can have with casting randomly is giving a very young player an elderly character. Or vice-versa.

(You could even end up with a parent/child relationship being played the "wrong" way around!)

If everyone plays their role properly, it shouldn't matter at all. But if you are worried about that, then you might not want to cast everyone randomly.

guests' choice

The other thing I do is send out the cast list to everyone beforehand and ask them to tell me which three characters they would like to play.

This lets those players that really want to play a particular character (perhaps because they have a perfect costume for the role), get the character of their choice.

I will then try to cast as close as possible to people's preferences. Naturally, I never guarantee that everyone will get who they have chosen.

(Recently I have used both methods for the same murder mystery game. I tested a prototype game at a games convention and for those that signed up in advance, I asked them to choose their favourite three characters. I then tried to cast them as close as possible to their selections (but I was constrained by the fact that I needed to cast the minimum characters). Those that turned up on the door were cast at random - and everything worked fine.)

I almost always give a guest the character they ask for if they are planning on wearing a spectacular costume.

If they are going to make that kind of effort, then they should be rewarded with an appropriate character.

when you cast your murder mystery game

The other aspect of casting is when to cast

Do you cast in advance, or on the day?

Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

casting in advance

The big advantage of casting in advance is that your guests can prepare for the role.

They can find appropriate costumes and props and help contribute to the atmosphere of the game.

The main disadvantage is that if someone that you have given a critical character to (say, the murderer) cancels at the last minute, then you need to recast.

And that may mean that someone has a quite inappropriate costume for his or her new part.

Casting in advance particularly suits the letting-your-guests-choose-their-character method I've talked about above.

casting on the day

If you cast on the day, you should encourage your guests to dress in an appropriate style.

This may mean that you lose a little atmosphere, but does mean you’re not relying on a particular guest.

a third way - do both!

A third option is to combine both.

Tell some people in advance which characters they will be playing, and leave some to the last minute to cover all eventualities.

(This is the best option if you have some guests who you think won't want to be fully involved in the murder mystery party - see below for more about that.)

sending out character information in advance

Once you've cast your game, you could send out the entire character background in advance.

Getting a character in advance helps guests with costuming, and helps to generate excitement about the party. It also means that the game will start quicker on the day - because your guests will already be familiar with their character (although I would want to refresh my memory just before starting).

But... you may find that your guests (particularly close friends and partners) actually start playing before the evening!

They may well accidentally give away secrets – and unintentionally spoil the evening.

You also have an even bigger problem if someone drops out – you can’t give their character to someone else (because they know things about their first character) so you would need to try and find an extra person from somewhere.

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice - and whether you trust your players with the advance information. And as with the rest of this article, you can always mix and match by sending some out in advance and keeping others back in reserve.

(It's worth noting that at Freeform Games many report that if they were running the game again, they would send the information out in advance.)

how to deal with those who might not want to be fully involved?

You may have some guests who you think won't want to be fully involved in the murder mystery. They might even have let you know, which is useful.

But what do you do?

In that situation I would give them one of the optional characters. 

All the games can be played with a range guests. So Hollywood Lies, for example, can be played with anywhere from 16 to 32 guests. That means that there are 16 "core" characters, and everyone else is optional. 

You need the core characters, and they tend to have the minimum clues needed to solve the mystery. The optional characters provide more clues, more plots (and hopefully more fun). 

But the game works fine without the optional characters, so if you've got someone playing one of them and they don't want to be fully involved, that's okay. The game won't break without them. 

And if they do end up being fully involved (which in my experience happens quite often) then that's great as well!

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Here's my suggested quick route through the site:

Step 1 - Go to Choosing a Game to choose the game that suits your party best.

Step 2 - Review the Tips for Hosts for helpful advice.

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