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How To Write An Amazing Escape Room Scenario For Your Next Birthday Party

Escape room birthday parties are always fun... but an engaging storyline will make yours great!
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Shirley watson puzzle master
I know... writing can be hard. But trust me, their epic smiles will make it all worthwhile! Let's get started.

The Secret to an Epic Escape Room Birthday Party? An Epic Story!

Good on you for choosing to run an escape room party! This is gonna be awesome!  (No idea what I'm talking about? Check out this article for the low-down on escape room parties).

But... is awesome enough this time? Or would you like to plan a party with real pizzazz? An epic party for the ages? A party that will be reshared on Instagram and TikTok annually as the Super Bowl of parties?

The key to unlocking this next level of party epicness is simple. Just make sure that your escape room tells an interesting story.

Don't worry, writing a story for an escape room is easier than you think. You're not rewriting War and Peace. You just need a simple and fun storyline and a few well-themed puzzles. You're going for thrilling and exciting, not deep drama.

Coming up with the story idea is your job — but feel free to steal a couple of these tried-and-true escape room themes. Then, just follow these helpful hints to turn your idea into a sensational escape room birthday party!
Playing Lost Mummy escape room game at home

Write for Your Players

You need to design the game for your players. This means choosing a theme that they'll be interested in, and making sure that the puzzles are at the right level of challenging.

For example. if you're having an adult party, designing a game with a Frozen or Toy Story theme will leave some players checking their watches, sports scores, and Facebook feeds. (And hopefully, not writing reviews of your party on the spot!)

As Abraham Lincoln said, "you can't write an escape room story for all of the people all of the time." By considering your attendees, you can conjure a theme that will intrigue most of them and will amuse the rest. Your guest list is the starting point for this adventure.

Let's assume you want to throw an escape room game for an adult friend who loves the Great Gatsby. A 1920s themed murder mystery is just the ticket! Set your players at the scene of the crime and see if they can catch the killer before it's too late!

If you're having trouble coming up with a story idea, try cross-referencing your guest list with this list of exciting escape room themes. Don't worry, nobody expects an original idea (and the classics are fun for a reason!). Then, move onto the next step:

Provide Context For Your Story

All stories take place somewhere. While you don't need to invest Tolkien-esque levels of worldbuilding into your story, don't leave your players guessing. Make sure that your players understand the following questions:

  • Where does the game occur? Are you in the desert, on an island, or at Chuck E. Cheese? And why are you there? At Chuck E. Cheese, it's always for the air hockey table.

  • When does it occur? Did it happen a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away? Does it happen 100 years into the future? Or is it happening now? Grounding your players temporally adds dimension to your story.

  • Who are the players? Are they explorers in ancient Egyptian Pyramids? Astronauts preparing to set foot on a new world? Or 10th graders desperately trying to escape study hall? Giving them a sense of identity requires very little work on your part. But it helps the players dive into the game quickly.

  • What were they doing before the main event? No, not having a snack and waiting for the others to arrive. What were their characters doing? Were they searching for lost treasure? Robbing a bank? Knowing their back story completes the immersion into the game.
Lost Mummy Escape Room Kit
Then, write this out in a short paragraph. For example, the intro we used for our Lost Mummy escape room game goes like this:

"Exploring Ancient Egypt! It’s where your grandfather, Howard Carter, discovered the remains of the ancient pharaoh Tutankhamun.

But he had a secret. Something he never told anyone - but you!

He believed there was another tomb connected to the first. A hidden tomb. A Lost Mummy.

You've spent years preparing - and now it's your chance to find it!

While the boat ride to Egypt took forever, you are finally setting foot on the dusty sand. Ready to unearth this mystery."

Play With Your Players' Emotions

Finally, you can do this for a good reason. Bringing them emotionally into the game transforms the escape room birthday party game from solving a set of puzzles to racing against the clock with lives in the balance. This is where you anchor the experience.

The best ways to appeal to your players' emotions in an escape room game is to include relatable characters/aspects/plot elements, or include a big emotional twist.... or both!

For example, you can include information in some puzzles suggesting your villain was wrongly accused or somehow justified. You can offer the players the option of sparing the fiend from his fate at the end of the game. For an extra twist, sparing the fiend backfires, he comes after the players, and they have five minutes to escape before spending eternity watching The View.

You could also have your players receive instructions from a likable non-player character (NPC) who helps point them to puzzle solutions. Unfortunately, a puzzle or two before the end of the game, they find out that their guide failed to escape, causing them to rethink their path and scramble for the remaining clues!

Your emotional twist must relate to the game itself. Once you have the story for your escape room game, the emotional twist should be easy to find. Playing with your guests' emotions will create the epic game you're looking for!

Include A Ticking Clock

Most great escape games have two things in common — a ticking clock and a horrifying ending if the clock reaches zero. That's when the zombies eat your brains, the serial killer returns, or you have to live for a week without access to devices (on second thought…)

So make sure that you write this into the core of your story. This should be a time-sensitive story, with a definite consequence that occurs once that time has elapsed.

Before the game starts, let the players know what fate awaits them if the clock runs out. You want this on their mind as they work through the puzzles. After all, this is an escape room game. They need to know why they are escaping!

Make sure the clock is visible and audible. It does not need to tick away each second — that may be annoying in a 60-minute game — but it should announce the remaining time every five to ten minutes. Youtube offers several free countdown clocks you can cast to your tv during the game.

While most escape games last an hour, there is no law requiring the game to be an hour. 45 minutes is probably the limit for the 8-12-year-old age group, and even that may be pushing it. Consider your audience and their attention span when deciding the game's length.

Keep It Simple

Escape rooms should follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Your players have limited time to find clues and solve puzzles. Don't overwhelm them with details or create an endless progression of increasingly complex puzzles.

You don't have the time to lay out complex plots or delve into deep, multifaceted character motivations. Use simple plots (it's ok if your story seems cliché, that's sort of the point of escape rooms!), and add depth to your characters by giving them a handful of interesting personality traits. (Adding a backstory 'twist' to your character can work, just don't go overboard).

Your story isn't a novel. It's one episode in a multi-season show. The intro at the beginning recaps the previous episodes. The end doesn't have to resolve all issues in the show, just the problem for that one episode.

Perhaps your next escape room game can pick up where this one left off?
Kids having a blast playing Lost Mummy

Create Cool NPCs

NPCs allow the players to communicate with someone inside the game. They feel like they're receiving information from someone in the same situation. The NPC can be there with them or can be a voice broadcasting warnings from the past. Either way, using NPCs heightens the emotional tension for the players, and can make your game more relatable.

You can create several types of NPCs. You could have a live actor allowed to communicate with the players while they watch the players flail about the room. The NPC can dispense hints or information at critical moments, but is the NPC helping the players or ensuring that the players don't escape? Can the players trust the NPC?

NPCs can be audio recordings, journals, or other media that communicate information to the players (in this game, the players take on the role of the NPCs!). Make sure that the players have some background on the NPC, then continue to reveal the NPC's personality as the game goes on. This will help the players decide whether to trust or question the information. It also makes the players feel like they know the NPC, drawing them deeper into the game.

The NPC is, at best, a supporting actor. The escape room birthday game is the show. But having a good supporting actor will improve the show and add fun and mischief for your friends.

Combine Story and Puzzle Design

Puzzles are the heart of any escape room. This is the section you've been waiting for. If you skipped down to this point, please return to the top. This section will still be here when you are done.

The puzzles should complement the story. Every action the player takes should feel like it belongs in your game world. For example, a cipher puzzle would work well in a spy game but might be out of place in a zombie game.

Fortunately, you don't need to be a puzzle genius. You can just pick a few of your favorite puzzles from this list.

Try to find puzzles that exist in the world of your story. For instance, finding lost nuclear launch codes doesn't work well in a Sherlock Holmes game. Finding the lost diary of Jack the Ripper would fit perfectly in a Holmes scenario.

When designing puzzles, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do the puzzles work? Consider what the players must do to solve them and what information they'll need to learn. How can these actions and this information be 'themed' to fit your story?

  • What situations do the puzzles inspire? When solving the puzzle, what images pop into your head? How can you 'dress those up'?

  • How can your story make the puzzles more fun? Try to adapt clues and hints based on your story to challenge and delight the players. Even if your idea seems a little cheesy, run with it for the moment. You can always change it once you see how the entire game turns out.

  • What mysteries does solving the puzzle reveal? Each puzzle solution should provide the players with the information needed to escape. But the solution itself is a chance for you to keep telling the story of your game. E.g, a numbers-based solution could easily become the code to a safe, coordinates for a map, or a mysterious phone number.

By linking your puzzles to your story, you keep the players' heads in the game. They'll be amazed at your creativity. Don't be surprised to hear, "I never thought you were this clever."

It's Time to Get Writing

Better get started! You have a party to plan. A story to create. And puzzles to design.

From here, you'll move on to planning your escape room puzzles, and finally, building an epic escape room in your house! Don't worry, it's all very doable - just follow along with this step-by-step guide.

I'm sure your escape room birthday party will wow your guests. Just be prepared to run another one next year!

Not a Writer? Skip the Work With a Ready-To-Play Escape Room Kit:

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