Home murder mystery party: the ULTIMATE guide!

Look no further, you’ve found the ultimate guide! We’ll cover EVERYTHING you’ll ever need to host an unforgettable home murder mystery party.

Be sure you don’t miss the “Why some murder mystery parties fail” section at the end of the article!

Total newbie? You might also want to check out our article on what is a murder mystery party.

Step-by-step guide to host a home murder mystery party

So, just how does a home murder mystery party work? The following table lists each prep activity and roughly how much time you need for each one.

The tasks are arranged in a logical order, but you could do some tasks at the same time or swap tasks to better suit your schedule.

Time required*Activity
1-2 weeksCreate a guest list
Choose a theme
2-8 weeksSend out Save the Dates (RSVP) and receive answers
2-4 weeksBuy the game (base your purchase on the number of confirmed guests)
Plan the food
Plan the venue
Plan the decorations
Plan the music
Plan your own costume
Assign characters to your guests and send out invitations
1 weekPrint and organize the party materials according to who needs what
Optional: Buy prizes for the rewards
1-3 daysStart decorating
Start preparing the food
Charge your camera batteries and clear your memory card
The big day!Put on your costume and have fun!

*The timing is highly variable. For example, we were vacationing with friends and somebody said: “Murder mystery party! Tonight!” Everybody got excited. We didn’t have time for decorations, and between us we improvised costumes from our luggage. We whipped up a couple of courses for supper and then jumped right into the game – just a few hours after agreeing on the idea. We had an absolute blast! The lesson? While meticulous planning is a good thing, an impromptu game is totally possible. Just make sure you cover each of the key points below.

See the end of the article for a downloadable checklist version of this planning table to help you track and plan your own home murder mystery party 🙂

Step 1: Create a guest list and send out “Save the Dates”

Before you can start planning, you need to know how many people are attending.

Your guest list is vitally important. 99% of murder mystery parties are specifically designed for an exact number of players. You can’t play an 8-person version with even 1 player more or less. It’s got to be spot on.

So, when you ask your guests to RSVP, kindly remind them that a “yes” is a promise to be there! I mean, imagine everyone puts in heaps of effort, crafting their characters and costumes – and then the murderer doesn’t show up on game night! Now that’s a crime worthy of…death!

Bottom line – ensure your guests commit and confirm in a timely manner. And no backsies!

What if I’m the host – should I play along or just facilitate the game?

Well, it depends, of course! Different murder mystery companies design their games differently – some require a non-playing host, others make provision for the host to play along. Once you’ve decided what you want to do, make sure you buy the right game! Personally, I prefer games where the host plays along. Even if you’re a first-time host, I wouldn’t sweat it. Trust the game company to have smartly designed their product so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. And be sure to use the checklist at the end of this post to make your party planning a breeze!

Step 2: Choose a theme and buy the appropriate game

Chances are you had a theme in mind from the beginning. That’s perfect! Now it’s time to buy the game.

Most companies offer different versions of their games, depending on the number of players. That’s why it’s so important you have a total number of confirmed guests before you whip out your credit card. But thanks to Step 1, you already have this. 😉

But what if you don’t have a theme in mind yet, or you’re fretting over your choice? Browse these articles on themes (each one has decoration and menu ideas, plus a list of curated games to choose from):

Step 3: Plan the venue, food, decorations, music, and your own costume

Where do you want to play? Most people play at home. However, you could also rent a location or play at work, in a community space, church rooms, or even a restaurant!

Now it’s time to plan the food. Your highest priority here is to prepare the food before the game starts. Check out our article “Murder Mystery Party Menu” for loads of ideas, advice, and pro tips.

Next, decorate the venue according to the murder mystery party theme. You set the standards. Keep it simple – or go wild. The key is to transport your guests into the heart of the game world, to create a “vibe”. Ambience is far more important than extravagance.

And what better way to set the mood than with music? We highly recommend playing theme-enhancing music in the background throughout the evening. Music isn’t as noticeable when playing in small groups but makes a marked difference for larger groups (10 players up). You still need all your guests to be able to clearly and easily talk to each other, so don’t crank the volume. Some murder mystery companies have created Spotify playlists to match their games. Otherwise, it’s usually not too difficult to find a playlist if you search by theme. Try something along the lines of “1920s café” or “café house music”.

Pro tip: With all that taken care of, spend some time preparing your own costume. The closer the party date gets, the more you’ll have on your mind. You’ll be thanking your past self for having already handled your snazzy threads!

Step 4: Carefully assign a character role to each guest, then send each guest their character description and game invitation

Okay. Your guest list is ready. The date, time, location, and food are planned. Now it’s time for murder mystery party guide step 4: Assign characters to players.

How do you do this?

For a group of first-time players, we recommend you match roles to their “real life” personalities – give the role of a retired grandpa to the oldest man in your group. Let your friend who’s a ballerina play as the prom dancing queen.

However, for experienced players, and groups that love to roleplay, it can be extremely interesting to be assigned roles that are nothing like their real-life personas. Imagine your mom playing the role of a young pop superstar!

You know your guests – ponder the character matches carefully.

But please go with me on this next point – it comes from the heart.

If you have a quiet friend, don’t give them a quiet character. I’ve personally witnessed how a friend who usually kept to herself completely embraced an exuberant, talkative role. It was such a beautiful chance for her to showcase her acting skills. She was the star. We were stunned, nobody in the group expected the transformation. As host, it’s up to you to give your guests the chance to shine based on the characters you assign them.

Male and female roles

In our experience, it’s often loads of fun to play cross-gender roles. Consider the situation (are you playing with colleagues from work?) and expect that everyone might not be comfortable playing as a different gender. But don’t fret over this too much. Trust in the spirit of fun and adventure!

Worst case scenario? What if a character gets sick or cancels at the last minute? You still have several options to have a great party – check out our advice here.

Step 5: Print out and sort the game materials. Prep the food, finish the decorations, and (optionally) arrange special prizes for the awards

You’re nearly there! Now it’s time to pre-cook the meals, set up the music system, and decorate the space.

Some companies include special certificates as awards for the best roleplay, detective skills, or costume. Why not sweeten the prize with an artisan chocolate or bottle of wine?

Step 6: Get the party started!

Put on your costume, greet your guests!

A murder mystery party is all about immersion – so from the very moment your guests arrive, use their character names instead of their real names.

Set the example as the host – don’t step out of character, not even for a moment, until the game is over!

Pro tips for hosting a murder mystery party at home

Try the following to elevate your event:

  • I’m going to repeat myself because this point is so important: make 100% sure of your number of guests. Explain to your guests why it’s important that if they say yes, they commit. Every single role is vitally important, the game falls apart if someone cancels. Also ask that guests arrive on time.
  • First time playing? Start with a small group of friends. Much easier to throw a small party!
  • Start early. The game will take around 4 hours.
  • Name tags! Most games supply ready-to-print name tags as part of the game material. Ask your guests to wear them. Nobody is going to remember a whole roomful of new names. Name tags are the solution to that problem.
  • Take photos! You’ll want to remember your awesome party night. Where is a good place for a group picture? Does it have a photogenic background?
  • Build anticipation with a WhatsApp group. Name the group after the theme and be in character each time you post something.
  • Don’t shoulder all the burden! Why not co-host with a friend? Ask the group for support. Perhaps someone can bring a salad for the buffet, maybe your best friend can help you decorate. This takes some of the pressure of you, and gets the others invested.
  • If you’re newbies, play a game designed for newbies. We wrote a whole article about games for beginners. Check it out here.

How can my murder mystery party fail?

Usually, a murder mystery party at home is an amazing night full of thrills and fun.

But there’s always a chance something can go horribly wrong. Consider each of the following points so you’re fully prepared.

  1. One or more guests don’t show up
    Solution: Make it crystal clear that everyone who said they’ll be there has made a firm commitment.
  2. You chose the wrong theme
    Some themes require flirting, or even have a pronounced erotic component. Some feature drugs and alcohol. Don’t pick a theme on a whim – consider it carefully and read the game description thoroughly. Sex and infidelity might not be the best choice when playing a murder mystery party at your family’s Christmas dinner.
  3. Incomplete game materials
    Check the printed materials. Got everything? Double check!
  4. Fighting over the rules
    Never lose sight of the most important fact about the game – that it’s a game. A murder mystery party isn’t about winning or losing, or even about catching the criminal. The heart of the event is about having fun with friends and family.
  5. Too many breaks to check on or prepare food
    As host, the food is a key part in entertaining your guests. But constantly interrupting the game to work on the food ruins the all-important immersion. People start to drop out of character, and things start to unravel. To avoid this, check out our article here.

Checklist – Home Murder Mystery Party Planner

We created a planning checklist to make your event runs like clockwork – download the checklist here.

Voila! You’re ready to go.

Want to see our lists of recommended games for a home murder mystery party? Check out our other articles: