Sunday, February 19, 2006

It’s Murder, She Says!

I spent approximately 6 hours in a downtown café yesterday, plotting a murder.

I thought that might get your attention.

I belong to this rather odd group of people, we call ourselves the Loons. We are a group of civic-hearted, light-minded people who live in (or near) and love the town of Bellefonte. We are trying to do fun and rather goofy things in, around, and for it.

We're new. And that wasn't our original name. It used to be the Hysterical Society, but people kept thinking we were an offshoot of the Historical Society (we're not), and there was a worry that the Historical Society might take offense (don't want to irritate another group trying to do good things for Bellefonte) so we decided to nix it. Then we called ourselves the L.O.O.N.s, an acronym with no name to go with the letters. When asked what it stood for, we'd make something up--never the same thing twice. That joke shot right over a lot of peoples' heads, and I think we're starting to adopt the name "Loons," no acronym, because it doesn't take explaining.

We are the brainchild of the woman I spent most of yesterday with, and even though she might squirm when she reads this (she's one of the two people I know of who do read this), I think even she would acknowledge that she's our de facto head: the Chief Loon. I'm sure she knows if she decided she didn't want to be in charge any more, the whole thing would fall apart.

So anyway, the murder.

We're hosting a murder mystery event with a Victorian theme in general and a Bellefonte theme in particular. Bellefonte is heavy into Victoriana, by the way, and its residents are very, very conscious of its history. We're doing this as a fundraiser for another activity that will be coming up this summer, called "Mutts Gone Mad." It's a fair for dogs. We did one last year, and though attendance was light (it was our first), everyone who came enjoyed themselves. But more on that in another post.

Not really knowing how to proceed, the Chief Loon decided to do a little research. She found and read some how-to-do-a-murder-party type books, but the scenes were too heavily scripted. We wanted something more interactive, more of a role-playing game, so we decided to write our own. It's been in the talking/planning stages for a while, and yesterday around 3 pm the Chief Loon and I parked ourselves in a booth at Panera and started making things a bit more concrete.

The event is taking place in what used to be a train station, in the middle of a park in downtown Bellefonte. There are 8 characters and one victim, and after the victim dies, the characters all realize that each of them has a very good reason for killing this person off. They must then figure out which of them did it.

We had to flesh out the characters some more. Up to yesterday, we only had a paragraph about each murder suspect, and we needed to create in-depth back stories for each of them, including a very good reason why they'd want the victim dead. The mechanics of the game also needed to be sorted out--what would happen, in what order, when would clues be distributed, what would these clues look like, and so forth. Besides each participant receiving handwritten notes at specific times during game play, some of the Loons will probably act as a Greek chorus, providing clues in conversation with each other that all the participants are meant to overhear.

We managed to get 6 of these characters done yesterday. We did such complete back story for them, I'm beginning to see this more as a novel than a role-playing game. Who knows? Maybe it will be in time. We still have two more characters to work up. Not sure when that will happen. Next weekend, maybe?

A note to anyone reading this from Europe or Asia -- I know "Victorian" doesn't sound very far back in history to you. But you have to remember, I'm from a country that didn't even exist as colonies much before the 1700s. Anything older than 1900 seems ancient, and if something was around from earlier than the 1800s, it will probably have a plaque over the door proclaiming it as an historical treasure.

It felt good to flex the old fiction-writing muscle again. There were a couple of suggestions I made about characters that had the Chief saying, "Did you really just make that up? Wow."

I hope this is as fun for the people who come play the game as it has been to put together. I have a list of things I have to look up right now: did electric lights in the Victorian era have fuse boxes? When did police in the United States start using fingerprint evidence? We knew that cyanide smells like almonds, but what does arsenic smell like? What was/is the Pennsylvania Bar Exam like? I need to sort out something about military history in the 1870s as well.

Good thing I work at a library and like chasing down arcane bits of trivia.

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