Except as noted below, Debrief takes place on the Earth you know, in 1960.
When people die, their souls separate from their bodies. These disembodied soul-entities are called ghosts. Normally, the souls stick around for a few minutes after death before dissolving into a stream that goes somewhere else. Souls describe that process as moving “towards a light”, but no living person knows what’s on the other side. When this happens, the soul is considered to be laid to rest.
Sometimes, ghosts cannot be laid to rest because they have “unfinished business”. If the unfinished business can be resolved, the soul can at that point be laid to rest. Otherwise, the soul typically remains anchored to a person or location that’s deemed symbolic of the unfinished business.
Over the course of three to twelve weeks, ghosts gradually shed memory and coherence of self. As this happens, it becomes progressively more difficult for them to resolve their unfinished business and be laid to rest. Ultimately, a ghost will be reduced to a singleminded, emotional obsession with the unfinished business. At this point, the chances of its ever being laid to rest are very low, since it can’t usefully communicate what it needs (and it may not even be able to recognize when those needs are met).
Concerning Spirit Mediums
Spirit mediums, also known colloquially as scryers, are individuals capable of consciously sensing, communicating with, and summoning ghosts. Spirit mediums are extremely rare, perhaps one in ten thousand people, and follow no discernable pattern in the population.
Generally spirit mediums can only summon ghosts for a brief period of time, and from close range to the body. Both of these ranges can increase with time, but at most a ghost can be summoned for an hour, and from a fifty mile radius.
In addition to sensing ghosts, spirit mediums can also sense auras, which are the ectoplasmic residues left by souls that inhabited a place for a long time or cared about it very much. An aura is experienced as the sense of the person standing nearby, or perhaps a few characteristic words whispered in the person’s voice, along with a sense of an emotion.
Spirit mediums can sometimes help to lay ghosts to rest by talking to them and helping them to resolve their unfinished business, either by talking the ghost into a state of acceptance, or changing the external world so as to conform to the ghost’s desire.
Spirit mediums can also banish ghosts from a particular location, essentially by frightening them away. Depending on the power of the medium, they may either gradually find their way back afterwards, or become untethered from the focus point and wander aimlessly.
Concerning the Office of Unusual Concerns
The Office of Unusual Concerns (known as OUC, or occasionally as MI666) is a small office within the British Foreign Intelligence Service (known as MI6). First established during WWI, it employs spirit mediums for purposes of gathering military intelligence.
Most of the spirit mediums in the OUC are civilians working for Her Majesty’s government under the Official Secrets Act. Since 1946, Captain George Russell has been the co-commander of the unit. Under his leadership, the OUC has expanded to include nearly 50 sprit mediums by introducing a diagnostic indicator as part of the National Health Service’s annual check-up procedure.
The OUC has recently developed a new device called an ectoplasmic disruptor, whose existence and design are classified. The ectoplasmic disruptor destroys ghosts -- not by laying them to rest, but by tearing apart and scattering the ectoplasm of which ghosts are composed. This presumably makes it impossible for a ghost to ever be laid to rest. An ectoplasmic disruptor requires a trained spirit medium as an operator.
Ghosts In World Affairs
The existence of ghosts, and the OUC and analogous organizations in other countries, is considered a state secret in the United States and Europe. It is possible to keep this secret because spirit mediums are so rare in the population, and because they so often fail to have a full understanding of their abilities.
Although the general population is not aware of the existence of ghosts, ghosts are known by authorities to affect the world in nonmilitary ways. Most notably, while non-mediums are not consciously aware of ghosts or auras, they can be subconsciously affected by them. In some cases, people can be unconsciously affected by the feelings or obsessions of ghosts. Locations where many people died in painful ways are often sufficiently unpleasant as to be uninhabitable. Especially powerful ghosts can act as poltergeists, attacking humans through the manipulation of physical objects, or through spikes of emotion so strong that they can cause brain damage.
Debrief lasts for one hour, which represents the full extent of the time during which George Russell can keep his spirit-summoning ritual active. At the end of that hour -- if the game has not ended in any other way -- Robert Alderidge will be released, and will go off to fulfill his ghostly disposition, whatever that may be. This is a hard limit. The game is meant to be played under time pressure.
The game is to be played over an internet video connection. The player who is playing George Russell should be sitting in a normally-lit room. The player who is playing Robert Alderidge should be sitting in a completely dark room, lit only by his computer. (The authors recommend experimenting with the angle and the brightness of the computer screen in order to create a suitably ghostly effect.)
Each player character has additional rules at the end of his character sheet, describing the mechanically-salient powers and actions that are available to him.
When the game finishes, by whatever means, the internet connection should be immediately ended. The players should wait at least five minutes before reconnecting for postgame conversation.
Both player characters are male, within a setting of Cold War espionage and mid-twentieth-century British social norms. If this prospect holds no appeal for you, you will probably not enjoy playing this game.
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