Corvallis’ Conundrum House solves the mystery of making friends through murder

Adrienne Fritze and Mark van der Pol are life partners and co-owners of the Corvallis-based game store Conundrum House. They host murder mystery live action role playing dinners and have a tabletop role playing game rental service.

For Adrienne Fritze and Mark van der Pol, the couple who murders together, stays together.

They try to keep their murders to once a month or so, as hosts of murder mystery dinners and events at their small game business, Conundrum House.

Conundrum House also offers a popular board and role-playing game rental service, and a space to play on-site.

But what Fritze and van der Pol really seek to provide is a sense of community in Corvallis that supports players and game makers through in-person gaming.

Fritze got into role-playing games in her 20s and wrote her first murder mystery 38 years ago. A version of it is still played monthly in their store.

It began as a “bookcase game,” or one that can be played at home by just pulling it off the shelf. In bookcase games, Fritze said, you’re controlling the game space. She transformed it, with the help of van der Pol, into a live-action role playing game, or LARP, so the player could physically be in the game space.

She and van der Pol want players to feel like they’re stepping into another world at Conundrum House.Beginners can take a spin in the detective room, complete with fake files, a corkboard for pinning suspect and victim photos, an old-timey typewriter and black-and-white photos. The goal is to take the player back in time and help them embody a street-hardened detective.

“I love the way play connects people,” Fritze said. “One of the reasons we wanted to do the game room was to allow families to reconnect.”

Players who buy tickets for the dinner experience “End of Thyme” meet Fritze as a transformed woman. She embodies her character “Rosemary N. Thyme” and welcomes players into a room filled with old furniture, mood lighting and tea leaves for reading.

The ticket holder gets to play as a character, too.”My philosophy is that play is super important,” said van der Pol. “Play is anything in which you’re engaged in something that’s not routine for you. You need your imagination, you need discovery.”

That is a common motivation for game makers. Many also see games as a way to form new relationships.

Chris Scaffidi, a Corvallis-based game designer and publisher, is passionate about helping people make friends through games.

“It’s hard to make friends, and it gets even harder once you’re an adult,” Scaffidi said. “And games are absolutely one of the best ways to make and keep friendships.”

In 2020, Scaffidi started Fervent Workshop, where he creates and publishes his own games like the card-driven “Gnomadic Gardeners,” which is carried at Conundrum House.

He is so passionate about people using his games to forge friendships, he wrote a guide about it.”The Master Plan for Making Friends,” a blog post on his website, details how in-person game playing can help forge friendships.Scaffidi advises players not to begin their role-playing adventure on Amazon. He said players have a better chance of understanding the games and enjoying them by going to a local game store and talking to an enthusiast, like Fritze or van der Pol.

First-time players often feel nervous about stepping into the world of live-action role playing. Even someone as experienced as Fritze finds it difficult to put herself out there sometimes.

But she takes comfort in knowing there’s no such thing as a perfect player, because in LARPing, players embody characters who are imperfect, too.

“We want people to gain a safe space to play,” said van der Pol. “The experience of play is a natural part of life.”

–Angie Diaz, Parkrose High School

–Sofia D’Uva, Riverdale High School

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