Mansion Mystery – Live Action Roleplaying Game (LARP) was a one-night event-based game experience designed for nine people.
Mansion Mystery was a “mansion with a curse” LARP + a murder mystery + a dinner party with core puzzle mechanics and escape room elements employing key role-play components. The game also featured quality-of-life narrative reveals that altered the dynamics between player characters during key moments. This was to help inexperienced players in keeping up immersion and lessened stress over sustained improvisation.
The game was built around a mechanic of player characters trading personal secrets for clues and key information needed for deciphering puzzles and riddles scattered around the play area. Each solved puzzle revealed a major plot point shedding light to the overall mystery of the curse, and/or tools and instructions for a ritual to dispel the curse laid on the mansion the players were in.
I focused on the balance of challenge and reward – more difficult puzzles revealed bigger secrets.
The intertwining narrative paths consisted of puzzles which revealed information that was directly tied to the player characters’ secret backgrounds and pre-established dynamics between different characters. Characters’ revealed secrets fueled the role playing aspect and provided social twists the GM could somewhat predict and prepare for. These twists then redefined player goals in relation to the overall story, making the play experience more varied and exciting for the players.
The game was built on the following materials I designed :
– 9 player character sheets
– 2 non-player character sheets (quest giver and the monster)
– Multiple paths of physical written clues
– Escape room-like puzzles for players to solve
– A story behind the setting, gradually unraveling to the players as they progress
I split the story to roughly seven acts: arrival with appetizers and mingling, the main dish, a break (with murders), dessert, after-dinner investigation, remaining reveals unfurling, conclusion & closure.
When writing the story, I incorporated some player characters to the main storyline for extra tension. Additionally, I established inter-character connections to provide all players something to discuss with each other, and ensured that all characters have positive, negative and neutral relationships with others.
The overall relationship chart I used when designing the characters’ relationships and individual character sheets.
When it comes to the murder mystery section of the game, I conducted some research on designing murder mysteries and was inspired by traditional mystery stories. I added some troublemakers who are not the murderer, as well as ensured that even the murderer(s) have backup and friends, so that the players can feel more confident in their role.
Throughout the acts I ensured that the main quest was clear, but also that each player had a selection of things to do to keep them engaged and immersed in the game. This involved story points revealing information that causes inter-character conflict or unifies the players against a common cause. For example, each player character had a secret that was used as part of the game mechanic – the secrets had to be revealed in order for the story to progress. These revealed secrets caused drama between the characters, contributing to the desired player experience of social encounters and mystery.
However, all characters had to work together to solve the mystery and exorcise the monster. To encourage teamwork, I ensured each character also had a unique ability that nobody else had, giving others a reason to seek out that character and thus involve every player.
All the preparations were to ensure that the downtime between key story moments and during the puzzles is enjoyable for all players, and that nobody finds themselves bored.
Example tasks for the player characters:
Examples of character sheets:
I wrote each character a sheet that explains their complete background, important past events, affiliations to other characters to give them a lot of content to build their character on.
Example: Part of a character sheet “Dr. Shelley Silverstrand”. In addition to the background details, relationships and personality, some details were left empty to give the player agency to fill in and build their own characteristics.
Example: Part of a character sheet “Captain Milton Moon”. Each character sheet had a section that explains who that character knows and what kind of relationships they have with others.
When it comes to level design, I had to work with a limited space because I had to create the experience inside an apartment. Thus I focused on the following:
- Lighting, colours and atmosphere for each area.
- Thematically arranged props and clues hidden within those props.
- Busy and less busy zones.
- There was also a thematically relevant off-game area for players who needed a break.
I designed the puzzle clue paths to move the players across the entire game area, making it more likely for people to bump into each other and initiate social interactions, which supported the role-play aspect and immersion.
Customised player experience and immersion:
In addition to the character sheets and pre-built relations, each player received a custom-written invitation to the game. This introduced their character to them, but also how they fit into the setting, and who invited them. Arrival to the game area was done in character, so this helped the players to find the right mood when arriving.
The game venue consisted of the following rooms:
The dinner room, bedchamber, “other side” of a black veil, laboratory, the study, the library, the enchanting room, the kitchen, the closed wing and the garden.
The game featured different types of puzzles, such as combining visual information, numerical puzzles, searching for right locations or items, and physically placing objects into certain positions. As there were multiple clue paths, I wanted them to be varied to provide enjoyment for different types of players.
An example of a visual puzzle: There were clues leading the players to a certain book in the library, from which they find four playing cards and a note explaining some of the mystery. The note ends with “It was a game of cards to be viewed by the monsters of the universe”.
The players then had to find a correct order for the cards which could be found from paintings on the walls. They then had to present the cards to the NPC monster, who would give them the next clue.
Another puzzle type was using overlays on books – for example, in one clue the players find a piece of translucent paper with strange markings, and another clue path leads them to a book of written music. When the overlay is placed correctly, it shows which notes the players have to play on piano. When played in a correct order, clue leaflets hidden between piano keys were revealed and formed a phrase.
Some of the clues came from the players without them knowing about it beforehand. E.g. the jester, kept reciting a seemingly non-relevant story for entertainment. However, in one clue path the players find cards that state actions. The correct order for the action cards was found from the jester’s story. “Whisperer in darkness, found a curious colour, was stalked by shadows, bargained for books, lost their heart, is resting in peace. Found a new faith: even death may die.”
Another example is when a taming ritual the animal trainer had, consisting of petting the animal three short and two longer times, was connected to morse code in one of the clues.
At the very end players have to find the right components to exorcise the monster, such as collecting the right items, opening locked boxes, finding “magical items” such as confetti, and preparing a potion according to a recipe.