Bleach Backgrounder: Basics

This article includes in-character information for the D&D campaign, Seven Days to the Wolves. It is almost entirely copied from the Wikipedia article on the subject, though it has been edited to suite the "alternate universe" setting of the game. No claim of ownership is made over this information, which is entirely derived from the anime/manga series Bleach, by Kubo Tite.

Introduction - Continuity

For those of you who have been following Bleach as a series, there are going to be a few discrepancies in this information and that which is current in the anime or manga. Therefore, I want to start by explaining the timeline. The most important thing to note is that out continuity is "alternate" to the canonical Bleach timeline; specifically, it is without Ichigo, and without those characters who only came to know Soul Society through him. Thus, Kuchiki Rukia never came into possession of the Hougyoku, and there was no great rescue in Soul Society. Aizen's bid for power still took place, but under different circumstances; though he and his fellow conspirators still fought the rest of Soul Society and eventually escaped to Hueco Mundo, the existence of the Hougyoku is still broadly unknown, as is whether or not Aizen actually managed to find it.

Deliberately obscured by the high command, Aizen's plan was publicly called a failed coup – ordinary shinigami were never even made aware that the Centre 46 had been slaughtered and the leadership of Soul Society had hung in the balance. As a result, the Gotei 13 has undergone a slight reorganisation in the six months prior to the game, with a stronger and more distinct purpose assigned to those divisions which did not previously have one.

The most important effect of all this is that Soul Society is in a state of flux. It has a number of empty positions – two captain seats and five vice-captain seats – which it is scrambling to fill. The characters of the game will have the chance to pursue these seats – even the chance to become captains, if they should reach bankai. Moreover, even if the PCs have no interest in aiming for the seats, the question of who will get them is the current driving force behind Soul Society; how the PCs act and who they meet may well influence the way things turn out.

Characters

All Bleach characters are "souls". Living humans contain souls within their bodies, while disembodied souls, or spirits, have a form composed of particles of spiritual energy called "reishi", which otherwise mimics human anatomy, aside from slowed aging. This form encompasses all of the spirit's being; there is no distinction between spirit and body. There are a variety of different types of spirits in Bleach, each with a different visual theme and approach to combat.

Humans

Most humans in Bleach are effectively ordinary people; most cannot see or sense disembodied spirits in any way. One in 50,000 humans is a medium with some awareness of nearby spirits, but only a third of these are able to see them clearly, and only the strongest of mediums are able to speak with or touch spirits. Certain unique humans naturally have both the power to sense and the strength to fight with spirits, and ordinary humans can gain the ability to interact with spirits by spending time around a large source of spirit energy.

Quincy

The Quincy were a clan of spiritually aware humans who once fought against the hollows, using bows composed of spiritual energy to slay them. As opposed to shinigami, Quincy absorbed and channeled energy from their surroundings to fight.
Unlike the shinigami method of defeating hollows, which allows the hollow to enter Soul Society, the Quincy technique simply destroys the hollow's soul entirely. This method had the propensity to shatter the balance of the universe, because when souls are destroyed, the number of souls entering and leaving Soul Society cannot remain equal. This issue prompted the shinigami to conduct a campaign to exterminate the Quincy about 200 years ago, so they are theoretically extinct.

Shinigami

Shinigami are the psychopomps of Bleach – spiritual guardians who are charged with guiding the newly dead to the "other side" – and will make up most of the significant characters in the game. They are souls with inner spiritual power, recruited from the ranks of the residents and nobility of Soul Society. Like all spirits, they cannot be detected by normal humans. Shinigami use their zanpakutou, supernatural swords that are the manifestation of their owners' power, to perform soul burials on pluses. Shinigami also use four methods of combat – zanjutsu (zanpakutou combat), hohou (movement techniques), kidou (magic) and hakuda (hand-to-hand combat techniques) to fight evil spirits, primarily Hollows.

Spirits

Hollow

The hollows are the major antagonists of Bleach. These evil spirits natively reside on the plane of Hueco Mundo, but travel to the living world to feed on the souls of the living and dead alike. Like shinigami, hollows are made of spiritual matter and cannot be detected by ordinary humans. While the majority of hollows can be overcome by the average shinigami, there are some which surpass even the most elite shinigami in strength. Hollows come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, but are identifiable by their white masks.

Plus

Benign spirits in Bleach are known as pluses. A plus is the spirit of a person who has died. A chain, known as the Chain of Fate, protrudes from the chest and binds the plus to a location, object or person that they felt close to in life. The soul can move about freely if the chain is broken, but this also causes the chain to corrode.
Normally, pluses are sent to Soul Society by shinigami, in a ritual called soul burial, before this corrosion becomes significant. If the Chain of Fate is corroded entirely before a soul burial can be performed, a hole will form in the chest of the soul where the chain was once anchored. Such souls are driven mad and become evil spirits known as hollows. If the Chain of Fate is torn out deliberately, this also leads to spiritual degradation.

Artificial Souls

An type of created soul mass-produced by the shinigami. Issued in pill form, they are used to force shinigami out of their gigai (an artificial human body which allows spirits to interact with the human world) during protracted stays in the living world, and also to evict pluses that refuse to leave their bodies after death. They come with a pre-programmed personality that animates the host body until the owner returns, providing an effective disguise for a shinigami who needs to leave the gigai whilst in the company of observers.

Mod Souls

In addition to the mundane artificial souls, a series of experimental souls authorized and created by shinigami researchers exists. Known as modified souls, these were meant to hunt hollows by possessing soulless human bodies and supercharging a particular aspect of them (for example, strength or speed). The shinigami decided to scrap the project due to the inhumanity of forcing dead bodies to fight, and ordered the destruction of all modified souls.

The World

The planes of existence in the Bleach universe broadly correspond to the life and afterlife of most human belief systems. Living humans reside in a world resembling present-day earth, buried souls live in a kind of heaven called "Soul Society", and evil souls are sent to Hell. Once a spirit dies in Soul Society, its soul is sent back to the living world and reborn as a new human. This provides the two worlds with balance.

Bleach characters move from world to world by several means. Shinigami open passages between worlds by means of their zanpakutou; butterflies created during soul burial, called hell butterflies, make these routes safe. Human souls usually cross between planes only through birth into the human world or soul burial by shinigami. Living humans can also use special portals to move between worlds, but this is both dangerous and against the laws of the shinigami. While hollows are portrayed as able to move between planes at will by opening rifts in space, they usually remain in Hueco Mundo due to the risk of discovery in Soul Society or the human world.

Human World

Beyond the supernatural elements of the setting, the human world of Bleach is essentially the real world. The series focuses on modern-day Japan.

Soul Society

Soul Society generally corresponds to the idea of "heaven", if in a less idealised fashion; it is where good souls go when they die, and await reincarnation. It consists of two portions: the expansive walled city of Seireitei (literally "Court of Pure Souls"), where the shinigami and nobility reside, and the eighty-district residential area of Rukongai (literally "Town of Wandering Spirits"). Life in Rukongai is somewhat similar to that of feudal Japan; each district describes its conditions, with the lower numbered districts being more peaceful and becoming progressively harsh as the number increases.

A king resides in another realm within Soul Society, though the series has not yet addressed where or how.
Souls in the Soul Society are much like normal humans, but age at an extremely slowed rate, such that lifespans of several centuries are commonplace. Children can even be born as they are in the human world.

Hueco Mundo

Hueco Mundo (Spanish meaning "shallow world" or "hollow world") is a dimension between the human world and Soul Society. It is where hollows reside when not hunting humans, and they are undetectable as long as they remain inside. Entrances to Hueco Mundo are created by ripping the dimensional fabric between the two worlds.

On the surface, Hueco Mundo is a desert-like realm, covered in perpetual night. Few hollows reside on the surface, and the landscape is dominated by the imposing Las Noches palace. Directly underneath is the Forest of Menos, where the hollows mainly reside until provoked to leave.

Hell

Hell is the destination of those who committed unforgivably evil acts during their lives in the human world. When a hollow whose mortal soul is too wicked to enter Soul Society is slain by a zanpakutou, the gates of hell – giant doors held by skeletons – appear and begin to open. A giant, laughing spiritual being with a blade spears the wicked spirit and drags it into hell. The nature of the world, beyond the doors, has not yet been explored in the series.

Zanpakutou

The zanpakutou – literally "soul cutting sword" - is an important aspect of a shinigami. An expression of her own spirit and will, it is an intensely personal weapon forever tied to the user, yet also has its own personality and consciousness. It forms the centre of her combat style, and enables her to fight ethereal creatures, banish spirits, and perform various other duties (more info in the backgrounder). Every shinigami has a zanpakutou, though some are much more powerful than others.

Zanpakutou are suppressed by default, and appear as mundane blades, usually Japanese swords. Skilled users can discover their sword's name and a command word which "releases" it into its natural form, called "shikai" – indeed, this is probably the most important training a young shinigami must undergo before being accepted in the Gotei 13. A zanpakutou's shikai can be most any kind of weapon imaginable (some canon examples include a spear, a rapier, a sharpened glove, a serrated sword and a shuriken), and it usually has a distinct signature ability in addition to being a generally powerful weapon (from the above example, the spear splits into three sections, the glove has the ability to kill instantly if it strikes the same exact spot twice, the serrated sword splits into moving sections like a snake, and the shuriken becomes an infinite number of projectiles). This ability is also usually the key element in the sword's name and command word – for example, one zanpakutou whose ability is to become a cloud of ash is named "Haineko" ("ash cat"), and its command word is "Growl!".

Exceptional shinigami can develop even further, achieving a third form - "bankai". Bankai is quite rare, usually only possessed by captain-class shinigami, and is both much more powerful and much more varied than shikai (canon examples include independent beings, pocket dimensions, perfect hypnosis, giving the wielder icy wings and claws reminiscent of a dragon, and tremendously enhancing the wielder's speed, strength and senses). Most bankai enhance the wielder's abilities as well as improving the weapon, and some are entirely expressed as buffs to the wielder. Generally, a zanpakutou's bankai form has a more elaborate name than its shikai form (for example, Hyourinmaru – "Ice Ring" – becomes Daiguren Hyourinmaru – "Great Crimson Lotus Ice Ring") and sometimes a more elaborate command word as well.

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