Theme Wars

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Theme wars was a debate that occurred during the summer of 2006. Originally dealing with a new member's setting, the debate quickly grew to a broad philosophical argument as to how settings should be built and what place theme had in their construction.



The original instigators of the debate were Raelifin and CYMRO (now inactive). After a few posts however, several additional members became active in the debate. Including:

The Divide

After a good deal of debate, it was generally agreed that a setting might be built according to any philosophy, and that at some point it was useless to claim one was inherently superior than another. From this agreement came the two most generally recognized terms of the debate: Ethocentric and DivSet.


The philosophy championed by Raelifin became called Ethocentric, meaning "with ethos being at the heart of all things." In this instance the word "ethos" being used to describe a central idea, vision or theme for the setting. In the thread, Raelifin described Ethocentric as thus:

An Ethocentric World is one built around a single idea, the vision of the creator. In an Ethocentric world, each element makes up a great tapestry that is tied together by that central idea.
Merits: Ethocentricality means that the product will be art. I has a message and can stand by itself as communication of an idea that cannot be put into mere words.
Failings: Ethocentric worlds are incredibly focused on the creator and are thus selfish and unyielding. This tends to make a less versatile world for interaction as it will constantly press it's ideas and message into all who touch it. It also means that if you wish to convey a different message than intended, you must work against the grain of the setting.

Later on, Raelifin wrote another summary of Ethocentric philosophy for the Campaign Builder's Guide:

Ethocentric: A world or setting that is intended as art in its own right. The concept here is that art always has a unifying vision and this vision becomes the "central ethos." Everything in the setting is designed to work toward that ethos and thus has unifying theme. Ethocentric worlds are thought by most to have more focus, depth and potential.


The philosophy championed by CYMRO became called DivSet, and amalgam of the words "Diverse" and "Setting." The original concept behind DivSet was that a world should not have any uniting ideas, because they restrict the ability for a future storyteller or Game Master to create their own unique artwork. According to DivSet instilling a world with meaning and purpose constrains future creators who wish to use the setting as a backdrop. CYMRO wrote at one point:

Work out geography, history, society, races and classes FIRST.
You are building a world here, there is plenty of room in most worlds to allow for several concurrent "themes" or "tones".
As you work out the details, themes and plot devices will fall into their appropriate places.
To say one theme should envelope your entire world is to limit your world.

Raelifin also summarized DivSet, once in the thread and a second time for the Campaign Builder's Guide:

A Divset world is one built to be a plausible environment or a backdrop to other fictional works. Divset worlds are intended to provide options and possibility, without forcing it on others.
Merits: Divset worlds make excellent resources for Game Masters who want to create their own art without making their own world. They also provide a haven for players who like to define their own themes and ideas. By dissociating from themes and tones, Divset worlds are also much more malleable and easy to change.
Failings: Because they are not intended as art themselves, Divset worlds often seem boring or generic when viewed objectively. Divset worlds also provide less potential depth with any one theme as they strive to accommodate a variety.

DivSet: A "diverse setting" meant to house a variety of works and provide a solid foundation for gaming. DivSet worlds work hard to make sure gamers and authors have a world that fits their style by being varied and flexible, without an underlying purpose. DivSet worlds are thought by most to have more options, breadth and opportunity.

Rethinking Purpose

In fall of 2006, after most of the debate had died down, Salacious Angel provoked an interesting sub-debate about the nature of intention. Specifically, he challenged the idea that a world had to be one or the other, and that it was fully possible to have a setting which was Ethocentric but built without any conscious conceptualizing of theme or ethos. After a bit of debating, the definitions of all terms were expanded to include the factor of purpose.


Due to SA's comments, the meaning of Ethocentric was changed to mean "a setting that has ethos" rather than "a setting built with ethos in mind." Many members still use the old meaning, however.


Any setting that does not have a unifying vision or theme.


A "Conceptualized Setting." ConSet is used to describe the method for building a setting where the setting's creator carefully conceptualizes the underlying ethos of the world and works carefully to remain consistent. ConSet is a sub-category of Ethocentric world-building.


A setting that is "built bind." BlindSet worlds are created without care for ethos, instead putting emphasis on being pleasurable and interesting. BlindSet is a sub-category of Ethocentric world-building. BlindSettings are in danger of becoming SinkSettings (see below).


The antithesis of ConSet, DivSet was redefined to mean "a setting that intentionally avoids having ethos for the purpose of flexibility." DivSet is a sub-category of Non-Ethocentric.


Generally agreed as the worst of the categories, SinkSet is what happens when a world has no unifying theme and was not designed to avoid it. The name comes from the joke that SinkSettings have "even the kitchen sink" included, meaning that everything and everything falls under the single setting, causing drastic problems in consistency and realism. SinkSet is a sub-category of Non-Ethocentric.


The following badges were created by Raelifin for free use on the CBG. He suggests that they are used in setting threads to indicate the setting's predominant philosophy.

1185565219_9_FT33185_conset.png 1185565219_9_FT33185_divset.png 1185565219_9_FT33185_blindset.png 1185565219_9_FT33185_sinkset.png 1185565219_9_FT33185_ethocentric.png 1185565219_9_FT33185_noethos.png