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How to Plan a Free Murder Mystery Dinner Party

May 24, 2024

Hosting a murder mystery party is a fun and memorable experience, but sometimes your wallet gives you restrictions. Fear not! We have your back. Follow this guide for a successful and thrilling night!


Murder mystery dinner parties are quickly becoming the nations go-to source of screen-free entertainment and are good for any occasion. Whether you’re planning a small birthday, corporate occasion, or a game night, you can’t go wrong with a bit of intrigue. However, it isn’t always feasible to spend hundreds of dollars on every event. We understand, so we have created this guide to help you make a budget friendly party to die for.

Choosing the Right Murder Mystery Game

When it comes to selecting the right source for your game night, you have some questions to answer. Keep in mind your guest count, desired theme, and the atmosphere you’re trying to create. Each downloadable game has its own unique features that can make or break your experience, so be patient. If all else fails, you can always take the time to make your own — but we’ll save that tutorial for another time.

If you’re hoping to find a downloadable murder mystery game online, you have options. We recommend starting on Pinterest, and if nothing there fits, try Playing with Murder, a trusted source for budget friendly mystery games. Customizable kits and guides everywhere, so stay on the case until you detect the right option.

Planning Your Venue

Every event planner knows that renting a venue can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, but there is an easy way to bypass that expense. By hosting an at home murder mystery, you can bypass a huge expense entirely. Some folks, however, don’t have the suitable amount of space that it takes to host a murder mystery dinner party. If this is the case for you, you still have options for venues on a budget.

Some cities enable residents to reserve spaces at public parks with a permit, but it is very case-by-case. If you have a local YMCA or community center, they oftentimes rent out spaces at a reasonable cost. Libraries, schools and universities, town halls, and places of worship also often offer free space rentals. Contact your local city hall to learn more about what your community may offer.

Invitations and Setting the Scene

Similar to how there are a lot of free games online, you can find free fill-in-the-blank invitations on several sites. We actually have editable invites on our website that are free to download and modify to your liking. You can also use Facebook’s event feature and send each of your guests an invite with just a few clicks.

Although decor is often pricy, there are ways to repurpose common household items into stylish decorations. DIY murder mystery decor doesn’t have to be a financial burden, but it does take some creative thought. One thing we always recommend is rimming glasses for drinks with grenadine for a spooky touch to your table. You can also use ribbon or twine to tie your rolled silverware with a fancy bow and set your table on top of a repurposed cloth or scarf. Finally, you don’t have to go all out to make a party feel put together. Simply clean up and create simple touches to complete your vision.

Costume and Character Assignments

Themes and murder mystery parties go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re planning a 1980s blast from the past or you’re keeping it modern, your guests are going to ask you “What do I wear?” Make sure to get ahead of the game and plan everything accordingly. Encourage participants to dress pertaining to your chosen theme to match the game you’re about to play. They don’t have to go out and purchase a fancy new dress or spend hundreds of dollars on a poodle skirt they’re never going to wear again. Hair and simple makeup can go a long way, and YouTube is a great free resource for all things tutorial. Name tags will be a must for any role-playing game, so don’t forget to have them ready to go with safety pins for you and your participants.

When assigning characters in your story, keep in mind the personalities at play. Is this character a fitting role for them? Will my guest be willing to play as this character? When in doubt, try to include outgoing, talkative, or theatrical people for the best results.

The Menu on a Budget

Sometimes making food for a dinner party can be an expensive challenge. At the end of the day, without dumpster diving, free food isn’t accessible, but, there are ways you can throw a dinner party on a budget. A major thing to consider is how good of cooks your friends are. Potlucks are a simple solution that are often overlooked because you don’t have full control over the menu, but there are ways to reel in your guests. Make sure to make a signup for food or assign courses to your guests. You’ll probably want a couple of small bites, carbs, greens, an entree, and a couple deserts. You can leave options open to your group, restrict or ban certain foods from your party (we recommend not letting your guests bring only napkins). You’re the host after all! It’s okay to ask for help and say no.

If potlucks still aren’t your speed, there are a lot of quality recipes online that you can rename with an on-theme twist. Hot sauce? No, that’s blood. Frozen grapes? What? No…. Those are zombie eyes. There are no laws about renaming food to fit the theme of your party. It’s YOUR party. You can name your parmesan chicken Steve if you feel so inclined. AND if your “friends” cause a stink about it, uninvite them. It’s their fault for being a party pooper anyway.

Conducting the Game

Similar to other role playing games, the host will have to have all the information about the game before it actually happens. Keep in mind that you’ll have to keep the story moving by guiding your guests to clues and red herrings along the way. It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of the game will be unscripted, so allow your guests to figure out their character as time progresses. If you do this, you shouldn’t come across very many roadblocks. The show, after all, must go on.

Prizes and Awards

Like any game, there will be winners and losers. Prizes, no matter how inexpensive and small they are, are a great way to create added fun at the end of the experience. The first step is deciding what you want to award your guest for. Best dressed, best performance, detective of the night, and last place are our personal favorite awards to give out at any murder mystery party, but you can make up whatever you’d like for your group.

Once you have a decision on what prizes you’re giving out, you’ll have to have some kind of trophy for them. You don’t have to go crazy with these. You can make a creative paper award on Canva, make simple keychains with polymer clay, or purchase bulk pins with a spooky theme if you’d like to splurge. If you’d rather not be creative, that’s fine too! Teachers Pay Teachers is a great site that offers inexpensive templates for a variety of things– not just for kids. We found some under $5 on the website, so it’s a great option to get creative awards on a budget.

Wrapping up the party

Although we wish your party could go on forever, all good things must come to an end. Now, you can ask any writer what the hardest part of writing is, and they will either tell you starting the project or finishing it. We don’t want you to pull a Harper Lee and take 10 years to finish a storyline, so here are a few things to guide you.

You’ll first want to decide your timeline. How long will you give your participants to investigate each other? When are the final clues revealed? A good rule is to give 5-10 minutes after the final clue is revealed to do a tell-all. We often like to finish with a suspect line up where we identify the motives and opportunity of each character until we are left with the killer. Once everything is on the table and everyone knows whodunnit, you and your friends can start planning for the next murder mystery game.

Drawbacks to Free Parties – and an Alternative Option

Like anything else, free murder mystery dinner parties have some pros and some cons. You will have to decide if the juice is worth the squeeze, and consider that with a lower budget you will be putting more time into party planning. To put it into perspective, it takes us about a year to produce a new script, and we’re the experts. Not writing your own will save you time, but you will have to make the props, decor, and plan out the night. All of this can be bypassed when using our party planning service.

We recently re-launched our ticketed dinner theater shows across the nation. Tickets range from $59, so that can be a great option when you’re on a budget. Each ticket comes with a three-course meal and awards for winners of the game, so it’s a great all-in-one option. If you’d still like a private party, we offer those too! Pricing ranges from location to location, so give us a call or submit an inquiry, and we’ll help you out. Hope to hear from you soon, detective!

Host your own Mystery Party!

Our Murder Mystery Experts are excited to talk to you about your personalized party plans.

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