A Living Novel: The Making of Pauper’s Grave (Part 1)


Pauper’s Grave is the ninth Master Mystery Production and will premiere on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church (633 W. Las Flores Blvd.).  Here the audience will become villagers in the haunted and superstitious English village of Crow’s Killing, all members of the four most powerful and prominent families governing the little town.  But someone…or something…has been picking villagers off one by one, so, seeking sanctuary in the church, the villagers gather to try and solve the mysteries that plague their home.

Pauper’s Grave marks the second collaboration of writers Daniel Stallings and C. R. Rowenson, their previous being the sold-out success of Hello Out There in September 2015.  This also marks their second year being involved in Ridge Writers’ annual Weird Weekend and Master Mystery Productions’ fourth collaboration with Ridge Writers (The Eastern Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club).

Where did the inspiration from Pauper’s Grave come from?  What can you expect from the story?  How was this show designed?  What of village legends, family trees, and three diabolical tests in pure Gothic tradition?  In our three-part series “The Making of Pauper’s Grave,” Daniel Stallings and C. R. Rowenson will share a wealth of backstage and behind-the-scenes secrets on the production to get us pumped for the world premiere.  Here Daniel Stallings will talk about the story behind this “living novel” of an interactive mystery.  Enjoy!



Pauper’s Grave is probably, to date, one of the most complex stories we have ever created for interactive play.  Many times during the design process, C. R. and I found ourselves remarking how our mystery would suit a novel perfectly with its imagined village, dramatic scenarios, political and economic structure of the village, genealogies, and mythology.  We created family histories, balanced the local industry, designed family trees, wrote Gothic legends of the supernatural, and plotted challenges for our audiences unlike any others we have designed before.  Pauper’s Grave will be like a Gothic mystery novel come to life.

The show’s genesis began when Ridge Writers asked Master Mystery Productions to repeat the success of Hello Out There in 2015 with a new show for their fourth annual Weird Weekend in 2016.  When I learned that an actress doing a performance as Mary Shelley would be part of the roster of events that weekend, I wanted to design a show that correlated with the other events of Weird Weekend.

What came to mind was the Gothic fiction of the period.


Foggy landscapes in Europe.  Imposing castles and manor houses.  Shadows shifting along the wall.  Legends of ghouls and ghosts haunting the environs.  A scream in the night.  Was it a crow?  Or something more…sinister?

This was the landscape of stories such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula,  John William Polidori’s The Vampyre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe such as the story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  Gothic fiction, which has seen many mutations and revivals over the centuries, traded on themes such as heroism, romance, aristocratic decay, madness, death, terror, tyranny, guilt, and innocence.  All of these elements were worked into the Gothic storytelling of Pauper’s Grave.


C. R. Rowenson and I designed the village of Crow’s Killing in the English countryside, a haunted village with supernatural legends embedded deep in the town’s oldest and most powerful families.  Each family–the Masons, the Smiths, the Fletchers, and the Carpenters–have little nods to their (and Gothic fiction’s) medieval heritage and have positions of great power, politically and economically, within the village.

You, the audience, will join one of these families, learn their history and secrets, and try to uncover a deadly kind of game being played in the story of Pauper’s Grave.

A fog drapes over the village of Crow’s Killing nestled in the English moors, and shifting shadows play tricks with the eye.  Is someone…or something…digging up the graves of the poor?  The mystery only deepens when, the following morning, the villagers discover a defiled grave, a missing corpse, and the body of the local gravedigger whose heart has been pierced with an arrow.  Hiding in the sanctuary of the church, guests, playing as villagers, will hear local legends about the village’s resident ghosts and ghouls.  Could they be responsible for the murder in Crow’s Killing?  Or is a far more human presence involved?


Utilizing the environment of our venue in the design of the story (a staple for a Master Mystery Production), we blended our setting of the Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church into the idea of villagers seeking sanctuary and truth from the mysterious monsters in the churchyard.  Churches and other religious edifices were a major component in classic Gothic literature, so the venue worked perfectly with the story we ended up designing.

Gothic fiction was integrated into every show element from the venue to the interior design to the gameplay to the clues to the story.  We really wanted to embrace the concept in a thousand tiny ways to create this immersive, interactive experience for our guests.  So expect a tale of deception, corruption, passion, greed, terror, and superstition.

We have hints of romance and deception in one of our challenges, a splash of corruption throughout, and the ever lingering aura of superstition and suspicion.  Who is responsible for the danger and drama in the once quiet village?

That is for you to discover.

Ever Yours

A story is one thing, but how do you have your audience engage in the story and become the English villagers you want to see?  Tips, tricks, and sneaky secrets will be unveiled in the second part of our behind-the-scenes series.  Stallings and Rowenson will give you the backstage scoop on the gameplay design in “It Takes a Village: The Making of Pauper’s Grave (Part 2)!”

And don’t forget your tickets to see Pauper’s Grave, on sale right now at Red Rock Books in Ridgecrest!

You can learn more about C. R. Rowenson and his work at crrowenson.com.

–Master Mystery Productions

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