Proto larp: the murder game

I’m currently reading Ngaio Marsh’s A Man Lay Dead, which is the usual murder in a country house thing. The twist: the murder happens when everyone is playing a “murder game”, a proto larp where someone is designated a killer, “kills” someone by getting them alone and saying a code phrase, then signals the whole house. I’ve played this sort of proto larp myself, and I was curious as to how far back it went. Fortunately we have Papers Past and Trove to help…

Here’s a report from the Hawkes Bay Tribune about the popularity of the game among the fashionable set in London:

And one from the Waikato Times about it catching on in Sydney:

And a report from The Australian woman’s mirror about playing it in 1943:

And, inevitably, the actual murder which took place in one:

And of course Agatha Christie’s novel A Murder is Announced

I think that one is just a straight-up, pre-announced murder.

While I have not read it, reviews suggest Murder Game by John Stephen Strange also uses it as a literary device. And there’s a few short stories I found while trawling Papers Past and Trove which do the same thing.

Oh sure, it’s a pre-announced murder advertised in the paper, but everyone who saw the advert assumed it was going to be a party game, called “Murder”. They were all dreadfully surprised when someone actually died. (I had to read it to my daughter a few months ago, when she was going through a Miss Marple jag.)

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Ah, the TV adaptation just has people show up because they’re nosey.

That’s a neat piece of history. It feels similar to a “social deduction” game, I’ve played a murder mystery at a party of non-roleplayers with a similar vibe.

The one I always think of when it comes to proto-larp is Atzor from 1937 in the US. It goes further in terms of having been an ongoing campaign over a number of years in a fictional setting with a lot of participants and simulation of things like battles. The main activity seems to be roleplaying rulers of countries at social settings, so lots of opportunities for dressing up. Of course it’s hard to tell from one article what it would have really been like.

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