Murder and Mystery at Whodunnit Manor

Whodunnit Manor


Try Whodunnit Manor

Whodunnit Manor is a collection of on-line, interactive, mysteries for four or more sleuths.

Explanation for Authors

"The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it."

Margery Allingham

The classic detective fiction revolves around a single protagonist with whom, especially if written from a first person point of view, the reader identifies.

Often there is a sidekick character, used as a sounding board to cover the reader's need for explanatory text. It's not until Lord Peter Wimsey meets Harriet Vane that we see a genuine dialogue between detectives as equals.

Interactions between groups of more-or-less equal investigators are rare, even procedurals tend to be told from a narrow point of view using most of the ostensibly equal team as clue-feeds. This might be part of the appeal of CSI, the chance to identify with one of several characters who have a near-equal chance of finding the solution.

Participatory Murder Mysteries have to make it possible for any of the participants to solve the case.

Organised Murder Mystery events

Organised Murder Mystery events tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • Most of the commercially organised ones employ actors as the principals and expect the paying customers to be little more than an audience, an interactive audience with a chance to interrogate suspects and inspect the scene of crime but still an audience who may or may not be the first to solve the riddle.
  • Other events expect guests to take a more active part, they may be given a few lines to say, acting directions or a back story to learn and so respond accordingly to questioning.
    • And sometimes if a kit is used even the villain isn't told who did it until the reveal
      - this is a bit of a cop-out but it does let the organiser play.

Whodunnit Manor participants, sleuths, are expected to go one step further.

Sleuths have their own backstory and a few sketchy character guidelines as direction, these must not be too restrictive as the sleuth, who is also a suspect, must be able to play and interpret that character. Each of them has a slightly different view of the mystery and none of them can gather complete information without interacting with others. They don't usually know what it is they know but others don't.

The author of a Whodunnit Manor mystery has two unusual tasks.

  • To write the story from several, slightly incomplete, points of view.
  • To characterise fully the minor, automatic, non-player-character parts but to give only hints and suggestions for the principals so the sleuths themselves can act and flesh-out their own characters.


Few Mystery Games have wide distribution and in consequence editing has sometimes been regarded as a tiresome overhead. Few games feature great writing.

We need to change all that. We're bringing in professional writers; professionals who expect editorial input. Most of our quality control will be done by a beta-test panel and it's their feedback that will aid the editing process.

If you are unwilling to edit your work then perhaps Whodunnit Manor mysteries are not for you.


You need to be able to analyse a small, possibly parochial, sector of society in the manner of Gaskell, Trollope and Dickens but instead of developing each character arc and writing out their doom you turn over the backstory, internal desires, motivations and relationships to sleuths who will act out their own interpretation of your creation.

To aid them in this you filter the way they see their world and other characters through the characterisation you have built for them.

You probably don't want to make your sleuths cry but if you can make them feel it will support the illusion of entering a novel.

Ideally we tend towards the golden age cozy whodunnit, but if you want to set your mystery in space, among a nomadic tribe, or in a soap factory then that's fine too.


Experiments suggest the minimum number of sleuths for a playable mystery is 4 keen gamers. For ordinary purposes the practical lower limit seems to be 6 who can be thought of as three groups of two. Each significant clue is known/revealed to at least two sleuths making it much more likely to leak out in interactions and making it less of a disaster if a participant is called away to attend to real-life dramas taking their clues with them.

Three or four of these groups is about right hence the minimum number of six or if four groups, eight.

Write for at least one extra person per group, more is better, assuming typical party numbers in the mid teens. These extra characters should be written as optional characters. They may or may not be played by humans and if not some automatic actions may be programmed.

The upper limit is uncertain. Conventional murder mystery events can work with a hundred or so participants so it's reasonable to assume that an on-line mystery might do as well — but that's an awful lot of typing.

Opportunities to run very large mysteries are also limited by technologies: In 2017 we crashed a G4 mobile internet cell when trying to run over 100 players at once and most domestic scale WIFI routers can't cope with more than 20-30 simultanaeous log-ins so large mysteries must be reserved for large corporate spaces, schools and other places with dedicated, high-demand access points.

Some teachers have expressed interest in class-sized mysteries. Large family parties, social club gatherings and corporate events are all likely to consider a mystery as entertainment and an excuse for fancy dress so groups of 30 - 50 are not unreasonable, especially if sleuths will be logging in by different connection methods but you probably shouldn't address so large a group on your first attempt.


This is not about traditional protagonists and antagonists - every one of your sleuth characters is their own protagonist but might be someone else's antagonist - or sidekick... but if so they don't know they're a sidekick. Oh, and those other sleuth's might be 'secondary' characters to each protagonist but they don't know that either, they all think they're the protagonist.

Everyone in the story must have a reason to live - both for themselves as protagonists and for others as characters - they need not be the same reason.

A Whodunnit Manor mystery cannot have a Sherlock Holmes figure or the participants find themselves reduced to bit-part players and lose motivation whilst waiting for the hero to resolve the matter for them. Our sleuths need, each of them, to feel that they themselves are the hero.

Diversity, gender & fairness:

Try to avoid sterotyping but be aware your sleuths may re-add stereotypes as they play, you can do nothing about this.

Diversity of race, ability, culture and belief are welcome but beware the political correctness trap - you don't need to have one character from every group. You don't even have to be 'authentic' as long as you tell the host what they're buying in the mystery description.

Often the best way to indicate race is not to be explicit unless it's essential to the plot but instead to describe secondary characteristics and give them a name that leaves the options open:

"Emmie Abaka has pink and white petals caught in her crisp curls and clinging to her shawl; perhaps she came here through the cherry orchard..."

The mystery doesn't have to be fair - life isn't. It has to be possible for anyone to win, that's all.

It's part of the basic design concept that a Whodunnit Manor villain may get away scot free - and win while an innocent may be convicted - and lose. A charismatic sleuth may mislead all others and win and a methodical do-nothing-until-certain participant might, sometimes, come out on top.

While the ostensible objective is to outscore your friends and win, in reality Whodunnit Manor's objective is to give sleuths a great experience, have them talk to each other, enjoy themselves and have something to recall - even if they wind up in a five-way tie.

Unless you are writing for single-sex groups or scenarios (all OK as long as you make it clear) gender balance should be roughly equal or slightly female biased - as mystery games tend to attract more women. There is no hard and fast rule.

Not really a novel:

Although we describe the experience as 'Stepping into the pages of a Crime Novel' you are not really writing so long a work. Think of it as writing a short story several times over from different points of view.

Or perhaps you're writing several short stories that all hinge on the same scene...

Or is it more like a play? The non-player characters and those optional characters that have not been taken up and hence have become NPC's have to be completely scripted while your actors are improvising within the plot guidelines you have provided.

You will need very little subplot. With a few hints the participants will provide that themselves. You have to wind up the principal characters and let them go...

Completed story:

Most computer games, especially video-action games, are bought and played by people who never complete them. The later parts of the story are seen by very few. Whodunnit Manor mysteries are usually completed or abandoned in a manner that exposes the denoument, the 'reveal' to all sleuths. The whole story will be seen by the majority of participants. In many cases they will compare their partial viewpoints and they may scrutinise the reveal in detail, looking for points where they might have done better or for insights into how to address the next mystery they try. The whole story matters.

Keep 'em involved:

Sleuths will most likely drop in for just a few minutes several times a day during which there may be only one or two mystery turns - there must be something to reward them for their visits.

Don't forget that all interactive fiction is read by an audience of one - even multiplayer fiction is read by multiple individuals. Each sleuth must see a complete linear story: It need not be the same as anyone else's.

Everyone needs to feel they gained something each turn. Sleuths must feel they are participants, not mere spectators.

You are used to drip-feeding plot to maintain suspense. We need to drip-feed plot to maintain interest.

Ideally they should feel they've stolen a march on the other sleuths but whatever they must feel they are getting closer to the solution. Every sleuth too needs to have some 'worthless' information they can trade when quizzing other sleuths, something that is obviously of no value to others
- or is it?

A mystery should take about 1 - 4 hours of real time in total but be sliceable into many short chunks spread over as much time as a group need.


If your mystery meets a certain standard - is free from copyright, slander or other legal issues and passes inspection by the test panel then you may submit it for publication. If we make it available to the public then you will be paid royalties on a per-play basis.


Video games are very short-lived, 'classics' are fondly remembered but rarely played.

There is at least a chance that on-line mysteries might live longer. Sleuths are not competing with a machine: when Web 3.0, Web 4.0 and Web 5.0 arrive the mysteries might stand a little updating with whatever senso-feely addition becomes available on the data-streams but our plots refer to Human 1.0 and they're played by Human 1.0 versus Human 1.0...

...perhaps together we can create a new type of on-line classic, the type that lasts.