Murder in the Reign of Terror

Paul in his wonderful English aristocrat costume
Paul as Sir Percy Blubbery

Apologies to those who’ve been waiting to see the photographs. Since my last blog post I’ve been kind of distracted and not had the chance to blog properly.

On Friday 31st October, Ruth hosted another of her fabulous murder mystery nights in Paul‘s end of The Uberflat. The major difference with this one to all of the previous ones, though, was that instead of opening and playing a “kit”, this murder mystery was written by me.

And wow; it turns out that writing a murder mystery night is actually quite a lot of work. It’s like writing ten separate stories at the same time, which must all be internally-consistent with one another, but simultaneously must all neglect information that is known to one another in a dynamic and engaging way. After a few months of it (on and off) and a week or two of it (every spare waking hour) I felt like I had an understanding of the characters I’d invented so intimate that even their own imaginary mothers would be put to shame by my encyclopedic knowledge of them.

Adam as Mr. Gerry Knuckles
Adam as Mr. Gerry Knuckles

In order to minimise the risk that I would simply write the plot such that Paul would be the murderer (we’ve an ongoing joke about Paul always being the murderer, after he was for a couple of murder mysteries in a row), I didn’t choose who would play which character. Instead, I wrote a number of different characters and left it up to Ruth to match them up with guests.

This also had the added benefit, in my mind, that the characters were not written to match the people who would play them: and as a result, I was pleasantly surprised to see my creations brought to life through the improvisation of my friends, interpreting the characters as they saw fit.

I was remarkably nervous about whether or not I’d “got it right”: had I given enough detail about the characters that the guests would feel comfortable performing them, but not so much detail that they would feel stifled and unable to add their own flair to them? Had I given enough clues as to who the murderer was, but not so many as to make it obvious? Had I written enough dialogue for the time planned? Was the plot sufficiently gripping that the guests would actually care about defending their characters to the bitter end?

Dr. Manatee and his daughter, Lucie; as played by JTA and by Ruths mother
Dr. Manatee and his daughter, Lucie; as played by JTA and by Ruth's mother

My fears weren’t helped by the fact that I had to make a number of last-minute changes to the script to accommodate the fact that Rory – one of the guests – had a family emergency and had to drop out. By the time I’d finished (re-)writing the last of the dialogue, I still hadn’t had a chance to read through all of the script and make sure that all the loose ends were tied up: and, in fact, they weren’t, as I discovered to my horror some way through the night.

Mlle. Plosh and Mr. John Basterd; played by Claire and Matt P
Mlle. Plosh and Mr. John Basterd; played by Claire and Matt P

The evening kicked off reasonably well. There was a little awkwardness, as usual, as people tried to fit into the shells of their characters, but – again, as usual – the guests’ reservations turned out to be soluble in alcohol, and by the time everybody had gotten a drink inside them, things began to pick up steam. A second cause of difficulty at the beginning of the night is that nobody knew who they were supposed to be in relation to everybody else. I had expected that Ruth (who had told everybody who they were) had sent the full character list to everybody who was coming, but owing to a mis-communication between the pair of us she’d only sent everybody their own character description. As a result, we had whole families of characters who were not aware that they were supposed to already know one another. Thankfully I’d reprinted this information on the inside cover of the sourcebooks, and handed these out as people came in through the door, which resolved the issue.

Re-branded wine. Who brought this? I dont remember.
Re-branded wine. Who brought this? I don't remember.

Yet again, Ruth produced a fantastic and wonderfully theme-fitting meal, with a variety of French-themed, freshly-made courses. Paul, again as usual, put together a playlist of music of the period. Everybody’s costumes were superb, right down to the detail of Dr. Manatee’s eccentric quirks (JTA brought a spoon which he constantly fiddled with and refused to let anybody else touch) and Sir. Percy Blubbery’s wonderfully accurate English aristocrat’s clothes (Paul had sent me a text a week or so before the event in which he’d derided my costume suggestion for him and proposed his own, based on his research into the period).

A remarkable number of people, and particularly Ruth’s mother and Matt P, spoke a remarkable amount of French, which caused endless confusion for poor old me, who hadn’t spoken any, really, since high school. Had I thought about it, I might have tried to put a little more effort into ensuring that the grammar and spelling of what little French I’d put into the script was more correct.

There were only two fuck-ups worthy of note:

  • After I’d hastily removed Rory’s (absent) character from the script, I’d neglected to add back to the dialogue an important point that he makes, early on: a fact about a particular door in the inn being creaky, which, combined with other information from the other characters, could be used to conclusively demonstrate the whereabouts of the murderer at the time of the murder.
  • Worse yet, another part of the same evidence tree, to be delivered by Mrs. Marguerite Blubbery – played by Ruth – had also been broken by my sloppy last-minute editing. In her sourcebook, I’d given Ruth two conflicting pieces of information, and she’d opted to interpret the first one as being correct and the second one as being false.

In other words, fewer things “went wrong” than they have with a number of the professionally-made kits that we’ve bought over the years, which have, from time to time, had plotholes so big that youcould park a plane in them, or even mis-prints which have resulted in clues being revealed in the wrong order!

The guests point the Finger Of Blame at the murderer!
The guests point the Finger Of Blame at the murderer!

Nonetheless, a strong motive (to those who noticed it) and a weak alibi allowed about half the guests to correctly identify the murderer, which suggests to me that the mystery might have been slightly too easy (had I correctly implemented the two clues, above, everybody would probably have guessed). Still, it turned out okay as a result of my mistakes!

Unlike playing murder mystery “kits”, as we have before, having one of us write the story gave us the benefit that one of us – in this case, me – knew the entire plot from the start. I played a narrator/investigator role, therefore, similar to that played by audio CDs, DVDs, and paper-trail clues in many of the kits that we’ve used, and this actually turned out to work really well: I was able, for example, to keep the flow of conversation moving, to make sure that no crucial clues were completely missed, and to generally “host” the mystery part of the evening.

I’ve also learned a lot about how to write this kind of mystery, and I know what I’d do differently next time. In fact, I’ve already started work on a new mystery which I’m hoping we’ll be able to run late in January: Murder… In Space! Hopefully I’ll see some of you there!

Finally: if you want to see all the photos I took on the night, here they are.

6 replies to Murder in the Reign of Terror

  1. JTA’s right, it was Adam who brought the wine. May be the coolest prop anyone’s brought yet.

    By the way, you did a marvellous job on the writing and the hosting and all. I’m looking forward to your next one! Space, hmm? Sounds like brightly-coloured cocktails all round.

  2. Late January, you say? I think I’ll be free! I’m taking time off for SiAndy’s bandy and have a friend’s birthday in Chester during the week after so I’d *love* to come!

    C’est possible?

  3. Aww hell yeah – you should definitely come. And anyone else who’s reading this and thinking “I could maybe go to Aber for that” – don’t just think it, do it!

  4. Actually: don’t just do it! Tell somebody first so that somebody writes enough parts for everybody! And somebody is me! =o)

    Would be ace to have you. Maybe I should set up a wiki for it…? =op

  5. Well done, sounds like it went really well :)
    Would love to come along to the next one if I can! Should be back to good old unemployment in January so ought to be free. Space sounds interesting!

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