Murder at the Tea Party Meetup


I’ve mentioned it very briefly in the last coords roundup post. If you have me on Facebook, then you may have seen me mention this all the way back in early August. This is without a doubt the most elaborate virtual meetup I’ve put together, and it could even hold its own against the in-person meetups too. That deserves its own post.

The origins

Everything started on August 1st when I did a murder mystery party for the very first time in my life. Those who have done some before would probably say that doing one via Zoom is not the true experience, however, for the uninitiated like myself it was the perfect introduction. Zoom offers the comfort that if I didn’t know what to say or do, I could just sit and pull faces at other people’s dialogue, because it’s harder to have more than one person talk at once.

This was further helped by the fact that that particular murder mystery was scripted. When acting and improv isn’t something that you’re confident with, having a script is truly a blessing. It solves all the problems of “what should I say now”, whilst also ensuring that everyone has a part to play and no-one is left behind or overshadowed. Moreover, in between the scenes the script provides extra bits of information about how your character is feeling and what they’re thinking, as well as suggests questions to ask of others. Some people are real murder mystery and true crime afficionados, so they might have an easier time following everyone’s dialogue and picking up on the clues - my brain really can’t focus on that as well as reading the part out. Breaks for questioning scheduled by the script allow for a moment to think about what was just said, maybe read back some bits, and squeeze in some poor acting/fun interactions with everyone else’s characters.

Of course it probably would've been more fun in person, but that's not an option right now.
Photo from An Inspector Calls St Albans Sep 2012, licenced under the Creative Commons Licence.

The entire experience was immensely fun, in no small part because of the group of people I was doing that with. It put me on a high and got me hooked, my brain immediately thought what a cool idea it’d be to have a lolita murder mystery party. I seem to recall that the winter ILD just before I joined my comm was some sort of scavenger hunt murder mystery, but I may be wrong, that was 5 years ago now. But dressing up, a fun game, a chance to do something more character-like and something different during these sad pandemic times are things that I had little doubts my lolita friends would love. And I was not wrong, as the response I got was very positive.

The writing

Once I had people willing to join, I needed the game itself. The one that I had played before was one made for charity, all with downloadable files, so I thought that I’d easily find something else online that was free and easy to adapt both for Zoom and for lolita. Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case. For all that I looked, everything I found was either broken links or a paid version, which I didn’t want to shell out on or ask my friends to chip in for.

However, I had one card up my sleeve, one and only card: I’m a writer. I’ve been writing fiction since I was 7 years old. It’s true that I’ve never written a murder mystery - but why should that stop me? That’s a bridge I could cross later, for now I was not ready to give up the Murder at the Tea Party Meetup.

So I set off to write the thing. I read up online about writing murder mystery scripts, spent a lot of time planning the characters and the setup (and giggling to myself way too much - writers do that, we think we’re absolute geniuses when we plan and weep later, when we read). And then spent another long time procrastinating (again, like all writers do). Writing a murder mystery script was a lot more challenging than what I am used to. A novel will usually have one, maybe two protagonists - in a murder mystery, everyone has to feel like a protagonist, as well as the villain. As I was writing a story for 8 characters, that meant fleshing out 8 characters, their back stories, motives, alibis, all in a pretty short form, whilst also giving everyone as equal amounts of attention/screen time as possible. Then comes the whole murder mystery element, which I haven’t done before: I know who killed, but the players don’t. You have to feed them legitimate clues, whilst also dishing out some red herrings, and not get lost in all this yourself. The mystery has to be solvable/guessable, but not obvious, and when you’re the only one planning and writing the thing, you lose track of what’s obvious because you created it and what’s obvious because you shared too much information. Along the way I genuinely started feeling like this guy:

If you want to know how I managed to not lose track, the answer is Scrivener and getting really invested in my own story.

Still, one change of date later and several evenings spent intensively writing, I was as ready as I was going to get. I could’ve tinkered with the script endlessly or left it out for some more eureka moments, but I really wanted this meet to happen. Which meant sticking to a mantra I adopted during my final year of university: done, not perfect. If I got my act together earlier, I could’ve asked someone to read it over and give me some feedback, but as things were I decided to roll with what I had and hope for the best. I hoped that I did a good enough job that the murder mystery was playable and enjoyable for the people involved. And if some things were too obvious or not quite enough, I was about to find that out on the day or after, so I could make the changes afterwards.

The meetup

Just under two weeks before the meetup took place I sent everyone the scripts. I had asked people to confirm in advance if they were definitely coming, so that I’d know how many characters to write the game for, as well as do some preliminary role allocation. It’d be a lie to say that I didn’t typecast certain people or create certain characters for the specific person who said they’d attend. But that’s also the fun of writing your own script: you can adapt it to your group of friends. Which on top of having a very lolita-specific premise and setup made for a very personal writing experience and should make for a very personal playing experience.

On Saturday of the meetup I started the Zoom meeting about half an hour before the planned game started. When everyone is playing a character, it’s hard to have any personal catchups, and I estimated the meetup to end around 8pm, so I wasn’t sure how many people would be able to stay afterwards. I wasn’t going to play myself, since I know everything that’s happening in the script it would’ve been highly unfair if I played, but at the last minute one person had another engagement to attend to. Since nobody else wanted to join at the last minute, I took over that part, as well as the role of host and narrator.

Btw, that drink was disgusteng, absolutely not worth the £0.69 that I paid for it lol.

To my absolute relief, none of the worst case scenarios my brain put forward happened. Everyone has enjoyed themselves and did a wonderful job with their character. We got plenty of in-character interactions (as well as some very personal ones expressed through their characters) and people got really into it. When I did the other murder mystery, most of us just stuck to the script because we weren’t quite sure what to do, which ended up in the questioning being over pretty quickly and people not putting up too much of a fight to get the information out of them. But not this time! The questioning got quite intense at times, people were not afraid to push a bit more for an answer and we had some picking up on the legitimate clues as well as the red herrings. When the final round of naming your accused one came round, I was glad to see that three of the seven players solved the mystery, as well as happy to see that the rest fell for the red herrings. It was the proof that I needed that the mystery was guessable, but not too obvious.

Although my plan was to just sit, observe and host, actually playing a character meant that I wasn’t just staring at others and making them feel self-conscious. I still couldn’t always hide my expression when people were doing what I wanted them to (falling for the traps/picking up the right clues/not letting others get the truth out of them too quickly), but as I had to focus on following the script, it gave me something else to do.

In all honesty, I myself have had an absolute blast! We had so many laughs, I think I ended up tearing up once or twice from laughter. Because the entire setting was familiar to everyone, i.e. the lolita fashion world, as opposed to the previous murder mystery party where things were a bit too abstract for us to fully immerse ourselves in, everyone was able to interact with characters, make references and in-jokes, and truly bring their characters t life.

And the biggest compliment came as one of the players asked if I could send them all the files, as they’ve suggested the idea to their local comm and had a positive response. Not to devalue anyone else’s thanks and kind words, but telling someone that what they made is so good that you want to share it further is one of the highest kinds of praise you can offer to a creator.

A screenshot of our magnificent cast in characters courtesy of Kai Fortune. ;)

Truth be told, I was thinking that if the meetup turned out to be a success, that maybe I could sell the game. I’m not sure yet whether I will tinker with the actual writing any more before I do, but I would for sure need some original artwork first. For this time I used actual pictures of designers and models for the character sheets, but that won’t do for legal reasons if I were to sell this as a game. I’ll have a think, maybe crunch some numbers, and see where this ends up.

For now I can report another very successful meetup that has immensely brightened up this lockdown. Of course, it made me miss my friends all the more, but it also filled me with hope that when we can have proper meetups in person again, we will party just as hard as we do online, and probably even harder.

On a final note: if there was a tea party with just the Japanese designers in attendance, which one do you think would be the most likely to be a murderer? And which one would end up a victim (if anyone)? I’m curious to see what people think and what preconceptions they might have. For research purposes, of course. ;)


  1. Yumi Fujiwara would be the murderer, I think :)

    So glad this went off well! I can't even imagine how challenging this would have been to write and how chuffed you must have been that it worked out. I'm fully into the idea of polishing and putting it up for sale, I think that's great if you can.

    1. Oooh, Innocent World not so innocent!
      It was a fantastic writing challenge, that's for sure. I have a tendency to overexplain and write a lot, so this forced me to be more concise, especially since it's prety much all dialogue. I would love to release it into the wild one day, so maybe November will be quiet enough during the evenings to work on this a little more and get it up to a level where it'd be ok to sell as a digital file game...


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