D&D Murder Mystery

Our DM was away for a session, so I took the opportunity to run a one-shot. I didn’t want this to be a ordinary D&D game, and so wrote a murder mystery where each player was working against each other to find out who the murderer was first.

The set up was this: a wizard, in his new lich form, was furious with his death and demands to know who killed him. He’s already gathered evidence around his home and has bought the people he suspects most to his mansion. He then gives them the instructions to find out who killed him, and that only the first person that brings him back the correct answer will get to leave his home alive.

This is rather different from a normal D&D game: the heroes aren’t really heroes, and they don’t need to work together. In fact, working together will make it more likely that they’ll get stuck in this house as the lich’s guest.

The players were to hunt around for clues in each of the rooms in the mansion, and then later on share the clues they’ve found. Mechanically, they did Investigation checks in each room. Once in a while the lich would summon them to his dinner table again and allow them to question each other.

Each player has their own set of secrets to hold onto. They’re all either funny or incriminating. When a player asks another player about a specific piece of evidence, that might prompt the player to reveal a secret. For instance, one of your secrets might say “you must reveal this information if you’re presented with a beat up horseshoe”.

Only the murderer has three secrets to reveal that are relevant to the case. Find the guy with something to reveal about three secrets and you’ve found your murderer. You’ll need to race around to find the evidence before you can ask someone about it though.

(What’s the murderer doing during this time? The same as the players: investigating the rooms, but he’s only looking for ways to escape.)

Writing the murder was fun. In my mystery the solution was that one player killed the lich because he was in a relationship his parents wouldn’t approve of, and the lich was blackmailing him using that information. There’s hundreds of ideas for why someone might kill someone though. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s easy to pick the motive, the weapon, and make a player a murderer. Seed the house with lots of evidence (some red herrings, and some not) and watch them scramble to find it first.

The idea seemed great in my head, and on paper, but actually running the game had some issues I need to think on more to fix.

First of all, there’s quite a lot going on for a one-shot. The players have a lot of things to do (especially if the rooms are filled with puzzles). In my game, we were an hour and a half in before we got to our first clue. This was an issue. That gave the players two hours to get loads more clues – it didn’t seem possible. To “fix” this, I fell into a trap I’ve been in before: I made everything too easy to speed it up. The solution to the shadow-pit-fall-trap was easy to spot, the magmin died after two hits, and I gave clues out for rooms where clues shouldn’t have been found. The players definitely noticed this rushed type of DMing, which meant I didn’t get to have as much fun and they probably restricted themselves to the quickest action.

The issue is that turn based games – as I ran the entire game in initiative, as it was a race – are very slow. I should have accepted a piece of advice I was given during the game: let’s just carry on another time, don’t rush what we’re doing here. It’s fine to make the one-shot take two sessions.

I did have more combat and role playing planning, but skipped over a lot of it due to the timing issue. However, even with all the combat I had planned, there was still very little of it. That was strange to my players because I mislead them with a wonderful armoury where they could find tonnes of magic weapons. Why give the weapons if they weren’t going to be much use?

What I should have done is embraced it. Announced loudly that this game isn’t heavy on RP or combat which would have been totally fine! Lets focus on the story and the fun of investigating.

The next time I run this game I might just give out backgrounds to players, rather than having them come up with their background on their own and monkey patching on the backgrounds I needed them to have. This was another piece of advice my group gave, which makes sense. Players don’t mind being given a background, especially in this quirky format and setting.

I’ve listed a lot of the problems here, but all the players said they had a good night playing. One player said it was one of his favourite nights playing D&D, so that’s exciting! I feel like I’m on to something here, and will keep polishing it until it runs like a good, fun game for when you want to run something a little different but still within D&D.

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