Murder on the Tides

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I’m thinking of writing a plug-in murder mystery scenario where the party has to book passage for a few days on a ship with a number of other passengers. On the first night someone is killed and the party can try and solve it.

Does anybody know any good murder mystery conventions I can use?

Firstly, I would suggest you run this by your players, as a murder investigation will probably be heavy roleplaying with little combat. If they want a little more action you can add some in by sprinkling a few chance encounters with the killer/s in, more on this latter. 

Make sure the PCs don't suspect the actual murderer/s, or if they do, they should only slightly suspect them. The actual murder should be either easily over looked but also make perfect sense when viewed in light of the evidence. You'll need to know the plot inside out in order for this to work, and I'd suggest working out several alternate paths that you can either weave back in or you can carry off until you can rewrite the script. Then, decide why the murder was committed (revenge, political reasons, mistaken identity, religious reasons etc.). For example, you could have a cultist of Zehir stow away on board in order to eliminate an pesky paladin/cleric of Bahamut, have a duke off a rival in order to make a land grab.

The murder should also be a puzzle in and of itself, for instance perhaps the victim was thrown overboard out of a porthole and the room had been locked and a note typed up to make it look like suicide, you can then slip in some bit of evidence that only the PCs would pick up on. For instance perhaps he's a character they know from previous adventures and was far too much of a hedonist to kill himself over a silly thing like morals or believes suicide is a mortal sin. From here, the PCs can conduct a few preliminary searches and interrogations until the actual killer gets a whiff of what they are doing. Then, have him/her/them/it try to kill one of the PCs unsuccessfully (here you can put them in a situation that caters to the PCs strengths, for instance trying catch a ranger unawares and drive a dagger into their back probably isn't going to be that successful due to the high perception they will have, and a fighter probably has a sufficient Athletics bonus to grab hold of the side of the ship if he is pushed over and then haul himself back up, this offers an opportunity for the PCs to either seriously wound the assailant or even kill him, I'd suggest the latter if the murder was a group effort, as it can give them some direction. If the PC/s only wound the attacker they at least have something to look for when interrogating witnesses, for instance if he dragonborn managed to hit the killer with his breath weapon, you can start looking for someone with serious burns, frostbite etc.

Finally, make sure you can cater skill-wise to all of the PCs, if you’re not careful the PCs with the high wisdom and charisma scores will have all the fun and leave the less skillfully inclined (fighters, wardens etc.) behind. Just tossing a few ideas out here, high dexterity characters could be useful in following possible leads and staying out of sight, charisma based characters can conduct the interrogations while those with good wisdom try to get a read off them, high strength PCs can force open doors and quickly chase after fleeing suspects (athletics) while constitution might be good for keeping an all-night vigil and not falling asleep, finally intelligence could be useful for linking already known pieces of the puzzle (you can use this as a sort of Deus Ex Machina if the PCs get stuck, just say to the "wizard" something along the lines of "as you ponder the situation, you can't help but wonder why the door was both locked if the victim wanted to kill himself, as it would take at most five seconds) or for conducting research into the motives of the killers (you realize that the strange symbols carved into each of the four body's is specific to a necromantic ritual, one which requires five focuses). 

Hope that helps.
I have  small suggestion to add to the above statement. If you players want more action as well as puzzles, you can have the murder/s hire peopel to get in the PCs way, causing skill challenges or combat encounters. Maybe a rival investgator comes in at the bequest of the murder, causing friction into the case the PCs are working. If your doing a group, you could also have a member of it be rich enough to buy some nasty monsters they could send at the party. And there are the natural dangers of being at sea in a fanstay setting. If your players are looking for action, have some aquatic creature threaten the safety of the ship.
  What if the murder is a ruse? A doppleganger is hired to pose as the target and is killed.The body is discovered as was intended(although it appears as if someone tried to conceal it) The actual person is hiding in the hold on their way to X.You decide their intentions.

  They could also use a disguise and mingle with the passengers. Or appear at intervals when PCs are alone. Is it a ghost?Will they follow them-into a trap maybe?

   This will give you a chance to play cat-and-mouse with the party and still maintain a degree of suspense and danger-I hope.

                                 happy gaming,M