What a day. What a night! I am pleased to be writing to you from this side of a very big night – unmurdered! Hopefully I will be able to be able to capture the enormity of the night in words for you. I must apologise in advance for the lack of quality photos; Joe was busy facilitating and I was busy cooking all night. Our camera was handed around for people to take photos with, however, very few of the photos taken were focused and/or of a good enough quality to use.
Theme / Background
The official invitation reads: “A tournament celebration is planned to honour the noble marriage of Baron Bartholomew to Lady Diana of Dunnseberry in the manor of Fernwood. As a resident of the manor, you are not only invited to be there, but your attendance is required by the request of your lord. Whether it is to see knights jousting or to partake in the ale and entertainment, your business is but your own… until you find yourself in the middle of a murder. With only one night to find the guilty, you will soon figure out that there is a lot more at stake, for murder in the manor is punishable by death. Whether you are guilty or not, there will be others trying to finger you as the culprit as you try to find the real murderer, and only you can defend your innocence. Who do you trust? Who will betray you before the night is through? Everyone is a suspect and no one is safe in this mystery of medieval madness.
If you haven’t already guessed, the theme for this murder mystery party was medieval. Purchased from Night of Mystery, the game we chose was called “A Knight of Murder“. There are several size options for this particular game, and we decided to host a 21 player game. There was quite a bit of time spent in trying to decided who would play what role, as the roles needed to match certain personality types. I ended up developing a fantastic way of matching roles with people. In an excel spreadsheet, I put the guests in column A. I then used Columns B – F trying on various character matches for our guests. Roles were given two categories; essential for the game and support players. Support players were expendable given a green colour, so they could be easily identified while essential characters were give red and blue colours based on sex. Visually, this worked for me and helped me assign roles for our guests. For the most part, I think our final role matches were great, and I can only attribute that to my method of selection.
Originally we had several friends coming along as “commoners”. These were “extras” we created a very basic role for that helped provide atmosphere. This role was given to individuals who wanted to come along and be a part of the night but were uncomfortable playing a formal role. This excess of people came in handy as we had a few late cancellations (including one cancellation within an hour of the event!). The newly vacant roles (in this case, two female support roles) were offered to “commoner” guests and luckily for us, were snapped up. One of these late role matches went on to win the best performance prize!
Music helped set the atmosphere. Joe had downloaded some Gregorian chants and some theme music from Braveheart, Lord of the Rings and the Last of the Mohechans. He also found some fitting classical music that worked in well. He put these on Brittany’s iPod and using the hall’s PA system, they were able to play these on random throughout the evening. I overheard a few comments as people recognised different songs such as “Stairway to Heaven” done as a Gregorian chant!
Finally, costumes. The most important way to build atmosphere is costumes and being “in character”. Thankfully, our guests had read the instructions sent to them well, and came prepared. Most were dressed well within theme, and came in medieval attire. Several of our guests realised that their costumes were only a little dearer to buy new then they were to hire from a fancy dress hire shop. In fact, our “best dressed” award winner came from that number. Its highly recommended that you check these options before hiring as in some cases, it may work out cheaper.
Decoration preparation started soon as we finalised what game we would purchase. As we live in a two bedroom flat, we hired the local scout hall for our party. We decided early that we would require a lot of decorations to cover over as much scout paraphernalia as possible. We researched medieval manor decorations, and tried to make things that would help set the scene and provide a general medieval atmosphere. For the most part, the decorations were inexpensive or limited to the cost of general art supplies; hot glue gun refills, paints, brushes, cardboard and cheap felt.
Joe spent days pouring over internet images of medieval shields / coat of arms to try to get a good selection of images for me to try to replicate on ours. Made from cardboard boxes, our coat of arm shields required a lot of love and time in applying several coats of base paint on which the designs were painted. Using a hot glue gun, I affixed a little paper raffia rope to form a little hanging at the back which made placement around the hall easy. (Instructions for how to make out coat of arms is available here with additional images here).
We placed weapons all throughout the hall that we had made cheaply. To make the jousting sticks, we painted old fabric rolls (which we obtained from Spotlight for free) with brown paint. The tip was made by making a cone out of cardboard which we spray painted with silver paint. We affixed the tip to the stick using a hot glue gun. We also made one set of axes easily using cardboard, a curtain rod and spray paint. (Instructions on how to make the jousting sticks and axes can be found here).
For several weeks prior to the party, Joe started to scoured the local Op Shops (second hand opportunity stores) for old candelabras and candlestick holders. The older they were, the more it added to the atmosphere. We never paid more than a few dollars for any one item and estimate that we spent no more than $30 for the vast amount we purchased. We tried to have candles all over the room, and where possible, I used rose scented tea lights to add a subtle warmth to the room. This added a fantastic dimension to the experience, and became a focal point / ice breaker for a lot of people.
As the game we purchased required us to provide each player with 12 coins (which they could use to bribe / extort / trade for information), we decided to make a little coin pouch for each player. At the end of the night, we asked our guests to keep the coin pouches as a memento. Instead of using the paper coins suggested in the game, we used poker chips. The real weight of the “coins” in the coin pouches provided the players with a sense of value, and added to the over all excitement. The coin pouches were made by using a hot glue gun to create a pouch out of spare felt and different coloured ribbon was used to create a custom look. After everyone had arrived, we invited people down to the main table to select their own coin pouch and pick up their character envelopes. (Instructions on how to make the coin pouches may be found here).
Finally, we hung bright coloured pageantry flags from the ceiling. To make these, we purchased some cheap felt which we cut into a flag shape and using a hot glue gun, formed a look at the top of each flag that we could thread rope through for easy hanging. Using the graphics Joe had found while searching for coat of arms images, I cut out the shapes and patterns required in contrasting colours and glued them on to the flags. ( (Instructions on how to make the pageantry flags can be found here).
As we had several friends coming along in supporting roles, we catered for 35 people. Our menu options were chosen to cater for all tastes, provide an interesting varied range of foods that would be delicious as well as being fast and easy to prepare. When we sent out our invitations, we asked for our guests to get in touch with us with any dietary requirements. Although no one indicated any, we still chose to provide vegetarian options. Our menu consisted of three “courses” – cold buffet, hot finger foods and a round of desserts with each course consisted of several “dishes” as outlined below:
- A variety of nuts
- Spinach dip served in a cob loaf
- Corn relish dip served in a cob loaf
- Devilled Free Ranged Eggs (which we forgot to serve – DUH!)
- Cold meat platter – Salami, Cabanosi, Kabana, Kransky, Salmon Pate and Cracked Pepper Pate served with a variety of crackers
- Cheese platter – Blue, Camembert, Swiss, Edam, Tasty, Vintage, Apricot / Walnut Cheese and Fig Paste served with melba toast
- Antipasto platter – Chargrilled eggplant, capcicum and mushrooms, marinated artichoke, olives and baby bell caps stuffed with feta served with wafers
Hot Finger Foods
- Chicken Sausage Rolls (Purchased from Lennards)
- Free Ranged Chicken Winglets done in three different marinades – Satay, Spicy BBQ and Honey Soy
- Fried Cheese Kransy served with Garlic Bread Fingers
- Vegetarian Spring Rolls (which didn’t end up being served due to an excess of food!)
- Seasonal Fruit Platter – Mangos, rock and water melons, kiwi, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, mandarin, grapes
- Chocolate Mud Cake
Thankfully I had spent the great deal of Friday preparing for the party by finalising decorations and costumes and prepping food. This allowed our day yesterday to start out rather slow, but on a definite strict time frame. Our menu had been chosen weeks in advance allowing us to slowly collect our ingredients and spread the cost out over several weeks. As the food was the most expensive part of the evening ($200 - 300), spreading out the cost this way was a bonus.
Our free ranged chicken was supplied by a local company – Alstonville Poultry Farm. Sadly, this quality local supplier recently decided to close their doors, however, bargains can still be purchased so be quick! I started preparing the winglets on Friday by chopped 5kg of chicken wings at the joints and discarded the wing tips. This wasnt really difficult, but it was time consuming. To make my life a little easier, we decided to use disposable foil trays for the hot foods. I had originally planned on making all my own marinades, but at the last minute we decided to use Taylor’s premade marinades. There were a few reasons for this, but at the end of the day, it boiled down to cost, time and ease. The winglets were then refrigerated to soak up the marinade goodness overnight.
The hall has an oven, however I learned from previous experience that the oven isn’t great. While it is useful for warming food, it takes far too long to cook anything from scratch. With this prior knowledge in mind, I begun cooking the food at home by late afternoon on the day of the party. I cooked the chicken sausage rolls until just done and then stored stacked in a foam “hot box” so that they would retain their heat. The chicken wings were cooked in a moderate oven for 45minutes, turning once halfway through cooking. Once cooked, they were stored in a foam box with the chicken sausage rolls which stayed warm for a few hours. Although the food was still hot when I was ready to serve it, I just gave it 10 minutes in a hot oven to ensure it was pipping hot prior to serving.
Observations and Suggestions
Firstly, I am devastated that there are hardly any quality photos of the night. This is due, in part, to the fact that I was tied to the kitchen the entire night. My role as host / caterer meant I had almost no time at all with our guests – some of whom had travelled up to 800kms to attend. While this caused me a little heart ache, ultimately I was grateful to see the happy smiling faces on our guests who seemed to enjoy the evening. Things I would do differently would include:
- Asking several people to being cameras/ take photos – going to a lot of expense with no visual memories sucks! I have no photos of how awesome Joe’s costume was =(
- Hiring caters or not catering at all by asking guests to please provide a plate would free up the host a lot more to help facilitate / mingle
- We had invited 10 – 15 extra friends to come to our party as support people / commoners, however, for various reasons, only 4 turned up. At the end of the night, only one person did not have a playing role.
- Use a microphone during the various speeches so everyone can hear. While we encourage our guests to have fun, some people did not stop talking during speeches and disrupted the processes / experience of others. A PA system would have allowed everyone to hear announcements / information regardless of peoples chatter.
- We had one criticism of the chicken winglets. Even though napkins and plastic entrée plates were provided, it seems that they were messy to eat. Although delicious, I would probably omit these in future.
- We had to make sure the hall was clean and reset before we left. We made a general announcement at the end of the evening asking for help to clean. Although most people stayed, several looked displeased and sat around the edges watching. This gave me an uneasy feeling, and I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s evening. In future, I would organise beforehand with several reliable friends to stay and help.