Beautifully presented with many atmospheric photographs, this book details a real house, widely believed to be haunted, in New Jersey, USA... or at least formerly there, since the original survey by the author the house was badly damaged in a fire and eventually had to be demolished. For the purposes of your game, consider it still to be standing...
The Introduction gives a bit of history about how the book came to be written, stemming from earlier work including a previous description of this house which apparently lacked any maps - commented on by many gamers and rectified here, of which more anon. And here is the book's main flaw, an insistence on quirky typefaces that make it quite hard to read. The Introduction uses a very blurred 'typewriter' font while the rest - only slightly clearer - is one of those 'handwriting' fonts.
To start with, there's a detailed description of how to get to the site in Jackson, NJ. (OK, I admit to being a sad map geek, but I actually found it with Google Maps!) This is followed by brief accounts of the two main tales behind the house - that a paedophile killed several children there, and that a man murdered his wife... and then suggests that should BOTH stories be true, there might be cause for an awful lot of haunting!
Next, the house itself is described, as being derelict and boarded up. The description is quite creepy, as is the flock of crows that hangs around in the trees edging the yard, as well as a noose and a pulley and chain hanging from the branches. Moving inside, the atmospheric and spooky descriptions continue - all material you could lift verbatim to describe the place as the characters explore. One item that has survived the house's abandonment is a player piano which, despite the lack of mechanism or paper roll, is said to still play itself upon occasion.
The descriptions continue in this vein as the tour moves through the rest of the house, complete with many photographs. The account is given from the standpoint of paranormal investigation, with snippets about equipment used and phenomena observed, again useful if your adventures involve that kind of activity. This part concludes with reports of the witness observations that might be gathered in the locality, including mention of several visitors to the house being attacked by someone wielding an axe as they left!
Next are some ideas for how you might use the house within the context of your adventures. One really evil idea is to have one of your characters inherit the house, or of course if your characters are ghost-hunters or the like they may have heard of its reputation and decide to visit of their own accord. There are other suggestions too, a little muddled at times but all possibilities... and the really neat thing is that each one has been taken further than a mere suggestion into a basic plot outline, about half-a-dozen in all.
And finally, the maps and room keys. The author says she struggled, having to match memory with photograph without the house for reference, as no sketches of the floorplan had been made while it was still standing. The outcome, although a bit of a sketch map rather than a formal plan, seems to work pretty well.
Overall, this is a fine example of taking a real-world place - particularly one with a colourful history - and creating a useful game resource. Next time I need a haunted house... (Oh, and although published for D20 Modern it's quite systemless and could be used with whatever ruleset you please!).
Return to Jackson House 2e page.
Reviewed: 28 July 2009