Bringing a written story to life presents unique challenges to writers at Master Mystery Productions. It’s not enough to write a strong mystery; We need to be able to perform them, to portray them effectively, to bring the audience into the story so that their very actions drive the plot as much as out carefully planted clues. With a special blend of careful plotting, ingenious storytelling devices, new styles of gameplay, and a little sprinkle of improvisation, Master Mystery Productions can bring a story even as complex as the one for Pauper’s Grave to life! But how?
In this post, writers C. R. Rowenson and Daniel Stallings will team up to tell you a few tips and tricks of the trade about how it takes a village–our audience–and their cooperation to help us tell the story of the murder in Crow’s Killing.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: THE MAKING OF PAUPER’S GRAVE (Part 2)
From a story into a game
Master Mystery Productions has been developing a reputation for creativity and growth. To date, no two productions have been the same; this wasn’t a pattern we weren’t about to break. Pauper’s Grave is more than just murder.
It’s a game.
The Mafia Model
In the town of Crow’s Killing there are a small number of families that weird control: the power-hungry Masons, the noble-hating Carpenters, the diplomatic Smiths, and the crazy Fletchers. Each family has their own stake in the town, as well as their own ambitions, motives, and secrets.
Right from the beginning we both fell in love with the unique power structure the families represented. Then it hit us. Why not model our murder mystery after the popular parlor-game Mafia?
If you’ve never played the game, here are the basics. Several roles are assigned at random. There are mafia members, a doctor, and civilians. All of these roles are decided at random with only the mafia members aware of the identity of their comrades. How the game starts varies from party to party, but the excitement kicks of when everyone closes their eyes and the mafia votes on a person to kill.
It is now up to the players to identify and eliminate each mobster before they themselves turn up dead. Players throw accusations back and forth, trying to find the killers while proving their own innocence. At the end of each round, everyone votes on a single player to “remove,” all you can do is hope you chose wisely.
This merry-go-round of death continues until the mobsters are dead, or the remaining mobsters outnumber the remaining civilians.
The game is simple while still providing endless entertainment and variety for the players. What makes Mafia really shine is the interactions between all of the players. At the end of the day, that is the element we wanted to duplicate.
Lights, Camera, Interaction
There is one big problem that kept cropping up time and time again. While Daniel really has a handle on this interactive-entertainment bit, I am still learning. Every time I tried to think through the plot and conflict I kept running into the same wall. No matter what I did, I visualized it like I would a novel.
That’s part of the reason this gameplay element has been so difficult to nail down. In my mind I could see it all: the families cloistered together in frightened packs, nipping and baying at their neighbors in fear. It was tense, it was frightening, and it was thrilling.
There was just one problem: this isn’t a novel; I can’t control you and the other players like I can my characters.
Oh, don’t pretend to be shocked. Every writer has a streak of megalomania inside them. The point is, we had to find a way to encourage the behavior in the players that we saw in our characters. To that end, we have built in a number of twists and turns that we hope will get everyone on their feet and participating.
I can’t speak for Daniel, as much as I might pretend, but this is what I really want. I want all of our attendees getting involved. Not just with their teams, but with everyone. Daniel will be playing a significant role in the story. Theres no telling what valuable nuggets he might have.
We have already done what we do best: brought you a twisting plot, an intriguing setting, and fascinating host of characters. This story has been a blast to create, but the bulk of the entertainment lies outside our control. Much like it’s spiritual ancestor, the true value of Pauper’s Grave comes from the audience.
Please, dear reader, remember that you are the actors in this little show. We have labored hard to make this as enjoyable as possible, but we can only take you so far.
So close ranks. Work with your relatives to build the perfect alibi, question the other families to find what they are hiding, and expose them for the liars that they are. It’s not enough that you know who the killer is, you must also prove your own innocence. After all, your name might be all you have left.
If you join us for this year’s Weird Weekend of entertainment, then please: engage with the story and interact with the other players. Do that and we guarantee this will be a murder you won’t soon forget.
And now writer Daniel Stallings will give you a few hints about a unique gameplay system used for Pauper’s Grave: The Gothic Tests.
Every Gothic story should have a few tests of will, challenges that put a hero’s heart, mind, and constitution through their paces. And our Gothic mystery is no exception. One of the newest ways we are delivering clues to the mystery to our audience will be through this trio of tests, each designed to advance the plot, increase the interactive element, and heighten the tension of the game as families compete to learn vital secrets.
Each test was designed to reflect an element of Gothic literature and employ a different play style in order to succeed. They employ logic puzzles, verbal riddles, and a test of bravery. They employ more than one sense–everything from hearing, sight, and touch. They celebrate Gothic traits such as romance, morality, courage, and faith while revealing secrets about deception, corruption, suspicion, and murder.
Whether it’s using your wits to organize tricky evidence or using your senses to divine truth from obscurity, these challenges–The Test of Moral Strength, The Test of True Love, and The Test of Blind Faith–will be sure to add just the right taste of Gothic intrigue to our little tale. Are you brave enough to face these tests? Find out at Pauper’s Grave on September 24th.
We have our village. We have our villagers. We’ve set the scene. But what about the legends you’ve heard about, the superstitious stories that bind our families together with a power greater than the bond of blood? Co-author of Pauper’s Grave, C. R. Rowenson, will share a few secrets about the creation of the family mythologies in “Legend Has It: The Making of Pauper’s Grave (Part 3).”
You can learn more about C. R. Rowenson and his work at crrowenson.com.
–Master Mystery Productions