What is "Player Empowerment"?

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I've seen this term used on a number of blogs and forums over the last couple of years. Often it's a rebuttal (of sorts) to a suggestion made to include the players on some aspects of the game to improve everyone's play experience, e.g. "That reeks of player empowerment!"

I object to the term on the grounds that it suggests the DM and players aren't equals when it comes to the game. In my view, though the DM may have different roles to fill, we're all just players sitting around a table playing an RPG. I've even heard the game designers make reference to the DM as if he has more "say" or "ownership" over "his" game. I reject that as well. It's "our" game, not "my" game, regardless of how much time I put into it when we're not playing. I don't "let" or "allow" players to do things in "my" game. I provide opportunity for them to do whatever they want in context as long as they stick to agreements made prior to play (i.e., no blocking).

I think this ties into some common themes we see people saying on these forums. Players equated to unruly children or someone that needs to be disciplined. Or the reverse, suggesting that those who collaborate with their players as equals are "coddling" them. In my view, the players aren't children to be guided and disciplined. They aren't unruly characters in my unchangeable novel or lovingly-crafted campaign world to be slapped down when they dare suggest something that isn't part of my plan. The players are my friends and fellow human beings. I want them to be "empowered" to do all sorts of things and I don't want them to seek my permission to do so. It's their game, too!

Of course, these terms mean different things to different people. I've stated how I view the term above pretty clearly I think. I'm interested in how you view it and how you see it generally used, and what you think that means for the hobby. I'm particularly interested in reading responses that do not agree with what I've stated, and I'll even refrain from trying to debate your position. I want to see what the range of opinions is on this topic.

So what does "player empowerment" mean to you? 

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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In many, if not most, cases a DM has created a world that the players play in.  I know this is not true of you (Iserith) and a few others on these forums.  But you have to admit, you and others like you are the exception not the rule.  In more "traditional" games, the DM creates a setting however big or small it may be and he/she establishes "the rules" of the game.  So in that (limited) sense it is the DM's game.  If no players like the DM's world and/or rules then the DM has no game to run, but it is still his/her game.  A good DM adapts his/her world and rules to fit as many players as possible, but there are plenty of not so good DMs out there who expect the players to adapt to him/her rather than the other way around.

With this in mind...

To me, in most basic terms "player empowerment" means giving the players the ability to control their own destiny; to contribute to the story-telling in as many ways as possible.  I lean toward your collaborative style, but I am more traditional in that I develop situations for the players to deal with.  How the group handles those situations is TOTALLY up to the players, even to the extent of ignoring it completely (although this rarely happens because I know my players' likes and dislikes).  Furthermore, I adapt events based on the players' reactions to the situations in front of them (hence my preference to prepare only one session in advance).  And my players have come up with some unique solutions to scenarios that I have never blocked and in fact readily incorporated into my "plot."

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
There is nothing wrong with Player Empowerment.  There is lots of good in Player Empowerment.  The problem is Player Entitlement.  That is the idea given to players that the DM can be coerced into accepting what the player wants; that the player is entitled to certain things and may become righteously indignant when the DM refuses to accomodate them and the reasons for that refusal being irrelevant.

Old School: It ain't what you play - it's how you play it.

My 1E Project: http://home.earthlink.net/~duanevp/dnd/Building%20D&D/buildingdnd.htm

"Who says I can't?" "The man in the funny hat..."

hm, i feel like i'm partially responsible for this thread XD

to answer the presented question: i see it as there being the traditional method of dming (where certain thigns are in the player's domain, while other things are in the DM's domain) and a newer wave form of dming encouraged by the 4e dmg's

i prefer newer wave, i feel like this newer wave take steps to encourage a more assertive player- it certainly advises dm's more to allow their players more leeway, and explicitly allows them to reflavor for whatever they want to be playing, but i would argue that player empowerment is this phenomenon where the player's have input on things that in the traditional style- they don't.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/8.jpg)

hm, i feel like i'm partially responsible for this thread XD



Partially, but only because I've been thinking about it for a while and never posted. So your post encouraged me to do so. I don't think you were at all using the term in a negative way. Thanks for your input!

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

There is nothing wrong with Player Empowerment.  There is lots of good in Player Empowerment.  The problem is Player Entitlement.  That is the idea given to players that the DM can be coerced into accepting what the player wants; that the player is entitled to certain things and may become righteously indignant when the DM refuses to accomodate them and the reasons for that refusal being irrelevant.

The problem is that players "traditionally" think that they can only get what they want by coercing the DM. I feel like "empowerment" recognizes that "entitlement" is a real thing, and isn't necessarily a problem except when it runs into a DM who isn't willing to provide what the players want. Empowered players get what they want without coersion, and in my experience when what the players want is not rationed out, they quickly stop feeling like they need to fight to be entertained, and to grab anything they can get away with whenever they have the smallest opportunity. That is, they don't, as many people fear, just hit the "I win" button. They play pretty much as normal, but loopholes are no longer exploited, rules are no longer argued, in game events are no longer disputed.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

If player empowerment means that the player has say to move within the DM's established world with a reasonable amount of autonomy and that his clever ideas aren't shot down because the DM had pre-conceived notions.. I'm all for it.

If player empowerment means that the player is given carte blanche to destroy what the DM has worked hard on and other players have built upon (also known as BLOCKING)... I call that 'being coddled' if the DM allows it. The only time a DM will allow such behavior is if the DM has few friends and will take any sort of abuse just to have human companionship.... which of course makes the DM contemptible, so he has no friends; a vicious cycle.

EDIT: I said 'the only time'.. which was un-necessarily hyperbolic, because such behavior is allowed because the consequences are unseen or because the DM just don't give a rat's tail (until the results of allowing a player to block everyone begins to spread like a disease).
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
hm, i feel like i'm partially responsible for this thread XD



Partially, but only because I've been thinking about it for a while and never posted. So your post encouraged me to do so. I don't think you were at all using the term in a negative way. Thanks for your input!



hehe, yeah i know, and you're welcome

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/8.jpg)

hm, i feel like i'm partially responsible for this thread XD

to answer the presented question: i see it as there being the traditional method of dming (where certain thigns are in the player's domain, while other things are in the DM's domain) and a newer wave form of dming encouraged by the 4e dmg's

i prefer newer wave, i feel like this newer wave take steps to encourage a more assertive player- it certainly advises dm's more to allow their players more leeway, and explicitly allows them to reflavor for whatever they want to be playing, but i would argue that player empowerment is this phenomenon where the player's have input on things that in the traditional style- they don't.



Oddly, I first ran into this style of DMing with my first DM back in the very early 1990's, in 2nd Edition AD&D:  I think that DM sort of took on an editorial role in about half his games, where he would encourage and reward player contributions to world-building, plot-generation, NPC creation, and that sort of thing, only reserving the right to say "no" to anything that seemed too far out of place - and, he never actually used that veto power, to my recollection.

So, with that background, I'd always assumed that the so-called "player empowerment" was a normal, default state of the game, and found it a bit jarring any time the occasional guest DM would try to run with a more authoritarian, top-down DMing style (which, perhaps not coincidentally, seemed to always be followed close behind by a sort of unspoken Cold War between the DM and players, complete with little proxy conflicts, espionage, sabotage, propaganda, and the rest of the works:  these DMs seemed to operate under the assumption that their job was to beat the PCs, and the players would rather quickly begin to act like it was their job to beat the DM, or at least undermine his efforts to beat them.)



So, in any case, I don't see it as "player empowerment" and I've been finding that phrase rather strange every time I see it.  Instead, I think of it as the default (and, to me, preferred) alternative to "winning at D&D by beating - or at least not losing to - the other side".



As I've adjusted to the idea that the Cold War style of gaming is far more common than I ever thought, I've been prepared to say "maybe some groups prefer a good-natured, competitive, aggressive gaming style, and enjoy winning in some way, or they enjoy outsmarting each other in a battle of wits, or out-bluffing each other and being a better gambler, or something" - I can understand, accept, and even embrace that, and make comparison to other sorts of games I could have fun with, such as chess, yahtzee, or poker.  If everyone involved are enjoying themselves, then why not run that style of competitive D&D game?



But, instead of any sense of playful competition, I'm pretty sure I sense an unmistakable spirit of distrust and fear from DMs about what players might do if they aren't kept well-muzzled and strictly disciplined.  And, if there are DMs that feel that way, then I'm sure there must be a similar proportion of players on the other side of that equation who similarly treat their DMs as enemies to be disrupted and defeated.  I also don't really think either side of that Cold War really wants to give up any ground and bury the hatchet:  the requests for help in these cases seem to as often as anything be of the "please give me a tie-breaking Ultimate Weapon", rather than "please suggest some ways to help the other side see that I'm not out to get them".

That mutual fear and distrust is something I have a hard time accepting and embracing - I don't see how anyone would have much fun under those conditions.  It seems dysfunctional to me, and I'm not really sure if there's going to be a way to render it functional, without a willingness of both sides to surrender some ground and make it functional.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I think the term itself describes a game in which the players can have a meaningful impact on the campaign world independent of DM fiat.  There seems to be a default assumption that a DM comes up with a story, puts in the players in as characters and that story moves toward its inevitable climax and resolution.  Player empowerment then is anything that goes off the rails.

I don't have a problem with the term, as it describes a degree of ownership over a campaign.  I don't find that the term established differing degrees of ownership between players and the DM; I think that it actively challenges that baseline assumption. 
The very term itself seems to imply that DMs normally have power, and players do not. 

I don't really think that's true... if there's anything I've learned from my time of reading complaints from DMs in this forum, it is that players have all kinds of power, and they aren't shy about using that power to get something out of the game, whether DMs like it or not.

I think that rather than "empowerment", players are actually getting a heavier share of the responsibility.  That's not a bad thing, unless you are unfortunate enough to have a player who cannot handle that responsibility (which an always  be remedied by ejecting that player from the game as a poor fit, if the player cannot fit into the group in any constructive way; I think it's relatively rare, but there is a small percentage of any population that simply cannot or will not carry any appreciable load of responsibility.)
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri

I think that rather than "empowerment", players are actually getting a heavier share of the responsibility.  That's not a bad thing, unless you are unfortunate enough to have a player who cannot handle that responsibility (which an always  be remedied by ejecting that player from the game as a poor fit, if the player cannot fit into the group in any constructive way; I think it's relatively rare, but there is a small percentage of any population that simply cannot or will not carry any appreciable load of responsibility.)



I agree with you. I'm a big believer in responsibility rather than labeling it as empowerment. I believe thinking about all of this in terms of empowerment means there isn't a level playing field between DMs and players. I've never felt in my experience playing that either the DM or players are imbalanced in their respective roles. Everyone has a responsibility in making the game fun. If everyone is living up to that responsibility (which, again, my experience has generally been that everyone attempts to be responsible), the game works fine.
I would be completely interested in hearing a good argument otherwise, but -

I still genuinely believe most players and most DMs are in the game to enjoy themselves, and want to do what they can to help other members of the group enjoy themselves.

When problems come up in the game (and it's the problems that interest me, as a member of these forums), I think the most common causes are:


  • I suspect that usually, problems are the result of one or more well-meaning, but mis-guided ideas of what would be fun for others, often caused by poor communication.

  • Differences of opinion on fun, perhaps typically resulting from from questions of control, are another common cause of trouble, caused by unwillingness or inability to compromise.

  • Rarely, I think you might end up with a genuinely troubled player or DM, caused by psychological, emotional, or social problems that are beyond that troubled individual's capacity to control.



Coercion, I think, only exacerbate all of these source problems, and solves none of them. 


Encouraging assertiveness, and providing control where it matters, will, I expect, usually resolve the first couple types of source problems - they require only that all members of the group are at least minimally reasonable.


That third type of source problem, centering on one or more profoundly unreasonable or disturbed group members, is probably beyond the ability of most of us to deal with in any sort of objective, effective way (I'm not sure that even a professional psychologist would be likely to be able to deal with disturbed friends and family members objectively and effectively under the best of circumstances, and especially not as any sort of addition to playing a complicated game.)  Fortunately, I think, this type of problem is relatively unusual enough that most of us shouldn't have to worry about it that often.



[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I think "Player Empowerment" is now little more than a buzz-phrase. It is attached to someone's argument to make it unassailable because they can then use it to attack a dissenting opinion with "You are against player empowerment!" which is tantamount to calling someone a racist or sexist. It has become loaded.

To paraphrase Simpsons, "Excuse me, but "player empowerment" and "agency"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important?"

Unfortunately, the answer is all-too-often "yes". I've found "agency" to be in the same category sometimes, though just invoked less often. It is easy short-hand for glossing over one's points instead of being willing to expand and expound upon them.

I much prefer my "player empowerment" to exist within the confines of the game. I do not need to impose DM responsibilities on the players...because I want them to fully be able to act as players of their characters. That means I do not shift construction efforts onto them during gameplay as it infringes on their time spent playing their characters. Instead, the game is set up in such a way that the players have as much freedom as they can to play their characters. Here-in rises the specter of "player agency" rather than "player empowerment". All too often I've seen "player empowerment" warped to mean taking the player out of the role as PLAYER and blurring them over to the role of arbitrator, referee or full-on DM. Now this might seem like "player empowerment" but really all it is is "person empowerment"...because they are no longer acting as a player at that point....their role has changed.

This is, of course, related to the dynamics and aesthetics of the game of D&D where the players have zero rules-based ability to create in a meta-sense. This is not the case in other games. Still, we're discussing D&D here so...yeah. The basic comparison would be a game like Little Big Planet vs a game like GTA. In LBP, the player is given tools by which they can create in the framework of the game. It is part of the game. In GTA, one can produce many new things by going in and hacking the game...as many people have. However, the latter is outside the framework & aesthetic of the game. It requires basic, fundamental changes to what the game presents. Hence, "hacking" is not germane to the discussion of how to improve GTA as it exists where-as massive shifts in LBP are possible by virtue of it's own aesthetic.

Important distinction but hard for some to grasp.

Then again, I often feel that terms like "player empowerment" trickle down from game design discussion being done by people that have a much better understanding of the term...and then get into the hands of people that...well don't. Sort of like how legalese gets put into the mouths of ignorant nimrods so often. It makes people feel good to use terms and think they're doing so accurately. Actually, it tends to make them feel empowered. Ironic. All too often, however, it just dilutes the term and warps it into near-meaninglessness because it's been misused and misrepresented so often by users that don't actually grasp what they're talking about.

Always the case? Of course  not. Enough to have an impact on the culture? Certainly so.

C'est le vie.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

There is nothing wrong with Player Empowerment.  There is lots of good in Player Empowerment.  The problem is Player Entitlement.  That is the idea given to players that the DM can be coerced into accepting what the player wants; that the player is entitled to certain things and may become righteously indignant when the DM refuses to accomodate them and the reasons for that refusal being irrelevant.



This.

If the game is viewed as a collaboration of people creating a world and story then it works if the players have input (NPCs, Hooks, cool stuff etc) If they just want to power trip then they should get beatdown. 

 www.4eDM.org - A 4th Edition D&D Resource Site 

There is nothing wrong with Player Empowerment.  There is lots of good in Player Empowerment.  The problem is Player Entitlement.  That is the idea given to players that the DM can be coerced into accepting what the player wants; that the player is entitled to certain things and may become righteously indignant when the DM refuses to accomodate them and the reasons for that refusal being irrelevant.



This.

If the game is viewed as a collaboration of people creating a world and story then it works if the players have input (NPCs, Hooks, cool stuff etc) If they just want to power trip then they should get beatdown. 


I would say that they need to find another game or have a conversation with the DM about what it is EVERYONE at the table expects because obviously DM and players are not on the same page.  To simply apply a beatdown is not going to do anybody a bit of good.

Old School: It ain't what you play - it's how you play it.

My 1E Project: http://home.earthlink.net/~duanevp/dnd/Building%20D&D/buildingdnd.htm

"Who says I can't?" "The man in the funny hat..."

Powertripping is like self gratification, fun for you not fun for anyone else who has to watch.

Might as well write mary sue fan fiction. 

 www.4eDM.org - A 4th Edition D&D Resource Site 

Powertripping is like self gratification, fun for you not fun for anyone else who has to watch.

What do you mean by "powertripping"?

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Advancing their own personal goals or agenda without regard for the overall theme, plot or regard for other players feelings while being a douche about it.

 www.4eDM.org - A 4th Edition D&D Resource Site 

1. Player Agency; Entitlement and Empowerment.

Some people attempt to use Player Empowerment as a buzz-word and language trick to create a straw man. In order to disagree with you, I must Oppose Player Empowerment. Player Empowerment in addition to "You can't block me!" are often used to attempt to justify the worst table behavior one can imagine. In reality, this is Player Entitlement. This is bad for the game, and both players and dm's alike can be guilty of entitlement. I am entitled to enforce rules at my table, and dictate what is appropriate behavior at my table, and in my setting.

2. Who's game is it?

DM's claim to own the world they created, while players own their character within that world. Some games want the group to create the world together, which is fine. I wouldn't be interested in running that kind of a game.  Even if the players have input, even if the players do all the work, this doesn't change the real issue. The real issue is about player behavior, power tripping, immature and stupid actions which are out of theme, abusive, or vandalizing to the game. I want to have power to moderate behavior when needed  protect the game from certain abominations.

3. Power Trip.

This is something that players AND dm's share equal guilt in. DM's often refuse the possibility that anything could break the script. There isn't always a script, and doesn't need to be. Often, Player Empowerment is used to "frame" a DM as being on a Power Trip, when often the reverse is true. Using a projection, the power tripping player will accuse the DM of being on a power trip, and opposing player empowerment as a defense to be allowed to behave like Retarded Animal Babies.

youtu.be/gk2rdlCqJH0

www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk2rdlCqJH0

3:03 if you want to skip the intro and get to the dungeons and dragons part.

4. What to do?

I advise that Session Zero is perhaps the best weapon of any DM. This promotes Player Empowerment in the ultimate way, and it sets the tone for behavior. I can tell you up front the type of movie we are watching, the style of gameplay to expect, what kind of things aren't allowed into my game. This allows the DM to always say "But, at Session Zero, it was explained this kind of behavior does not fly in game or at my table."

I have discarded many "garbage players" into the abyss. Some have been told to pack up and leave now, others were notified at the end of a game they won't be returning. I would rather discard you like garbage than let you throw trash all over my world or game. I never have a hard time stocking my table with players, and I am picky. I only allow players in my game who are a good fit.

Within; Without.

Excellent post, Thadian!

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Excellent post, Thadian!



Agreed. Thanks for sharing!
I think "Player Empowerment" is now little more than a buzz-phrase. It is attached to someone's argument to make it unassailable because they can then use it to attack a dissenting opinion with "You are against player empowerment!" which is tantamount to calling someone a racist or sexist. It has become loaded....



That is a great point:  when someone says something like "that reeks of 'Player Empowerment'" and little else, it might be best to call time-out, put down the foils and take off the fencing masks, and take a moment to ask someone directly, 'what do you mean by 'Player Empowerment'? Without context, I'm not sure I understand that phrase." 

Sure, you might have a good idea of what they mean - and your assumptions might even be right.  But, it would likely be more useful to get the definition and background directly from the horse's mouth.


And, for the record, here's one of the first references to the phrase that I could find in this forum:
[spoiler When to End a Session]
My players aren't very creative.

Yet they're the ones who came up with the idea of heading off to find a dragon's lair.

There's a reason I'm the DM.

And in that case it would be to ask them questions to spur their creativity.

"You know there are wildmen living in these mountains. What have you heard?"

"You stumble across a charred and gnawed on corpse. What manner of creature was it? How long has it been dead?"

Besides, if they actually found the lair, they'd have died.

You decide that, or you decide to let them decide. "We search for the dragon," is not that decision.



Okay, first off, this reeks of player empowerment and robs the DM of pretty much any real decision making. If they're going to make the story, the DM is only sitting there to help determine combat outcomes and NPC responses. Seems kind of lame to me (and I'm fairly certain my players wouldn't like it either since in their minds, they'd be doing all the work).

That said, I'll give it a shot the next time we all sit down. But I'm going to make a few predictions on how this will play out:

 "We heard the Wildmen are easy prey and we need experience points, we're going to hunt them down, kill them, and take any treasure or loot they have". This leads to a story where they hunt down Wildmen in the area one by one and kill them...or they charge a camp and die in combat.

 "The corpse is wearing a +5 chainshirt and wielding a +5 vorpal longsword. Then we get the Hell out of dodge with the loot because if he died with all that awesome stuff, we don't stand a chance"


[/spoiler]

[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I think "Player Empowerment" is now little more than a buzz-phrase. It is attached to someone's argument to make it unassailable because they can then use it to attack a dissenting opinion with "You are against player empowerment!" which is tantamount to calling someone a racist or sexist. It has become loaded....



That is a great point:  when someone says something like "that reeks of 'Player Empowerment'" and little else, it might be best to call time-out, put down the foils and take off the fencing masks, and take a moment to ask someone directly, 'what do you mean by 'Player Empowerment'? Without context, I'm not sure I understand that phrase." 

Sure, you might have a good idea of what they mean - and your assumptions might even be right.  But, it would likely be more useful to get the definition and background directly from the horse's mouth.


And, for the record, here's one of the first references to the phrase that I could find in this forum:
[spoiler When to End a Session]
My players aren't very creative.

Yet they're the ones who came up with the idea of heading off to find a dragon's lair.

There's a reason I'm the DM.

And in that case it would be to ask them questions to spur their creativity.

"You know there are wildmen living in these mountains. What have you heard?"

"You stumble across a charred and gnawed on corpse. What manner of creature was it? How long has it been dead?"

Besides, if they actually found the lair, they'd have died.

You decide that, or you decide to let them decide. "We search for the dragon," is not that decision.



Okay, first off, this reeks of player empowerment and robs the DM of pretty much any real decision making. If they're going to make the story, the DM is only sitting there to help determine combat outcomes and NPC responses. Seems kind of lame to me (and I'm fairly certain my players wouldn't like it either since in their minds, they'd be doing all the work).

That said, I'll give it a shot the next time we all sit down. But I'm going to make a few predictions on how this will play out:

 "We heard the Wildmen are easy prey and we need experience points, we're going to hunt them down, kill them, and take any treasure or loot they have". This leads to a story where they hunt down Wildmen in the area one by one and kill them...or they charge a camp and die in combat.

 "The corpse is wearing a +5 chainshirt and wielding a +5 vorpal longsword. Then we get the Hell out of dodge with the loot because if he died with all that awesome stuff, we don't stand a chance"


[/spoiler]




Let's just say I thoroughly disagree with the OP. The players and DM are not equals at the table during a game session.

The DM determines rules (though, any good DM will try to adjust his rules so that the players are having fun) and other matters. The players try to pave the outcomes of the stories based on their in game decisions.

One has a job in the meta, the other a job in-game.

I despise trying to shove a DM's traditional duties into the laps of the players, as I believe it reeks of laziness and smacks of a DM who doesn't like DMing. And further more, I view it as changing the game into something other than D&D. Hell, in some cases, you've stopped playing a game and are now just doing collaborative storytelling. Which is not what I (and my group) set out to do.

As for the word "empowerment" there as compared to what I've read in this thread. I do somewhat agree that perhaps I should have used the word "entitlement". Though, player empowerment has been a common theme since 4e's release. And it almost always comes at the expense of the DM. Which I think is utter bull. The DM is there to have a good time as well, and he should not bend to the players all the time just for their sake.
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..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />One has a job in the meta, the other a job in-game.



I think this is a hugely important distinction right here. The traits a DMs and players have along the design aesthetic of D&D really do seperate their "jobs" into responsibilities focused in the meta and in-game respectively. I think that's a distinction that is not super easy to grasp but is often felt instinctively.

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I approach the distinction a bit differently:


  • Someone determines what ruleset to use

  • Someone invites others to join in the game

  • Someone establishes any and all houserules

  • Someone determines the setting

  • Someone serves as rules arbiter

  • Someone controls non-player-character-related game elements

  • Players control their own characters


The classical approach to DMing I believe is that the "someone" mentioned here is the DM.  HOWEVER, that does not necessarily mean that this is the only way to play any TRPG, even D&D; Ars Magica for instance allows players to take on the role of "minions" and sometimes even NPCs as part of the storytelling gig.  Additionally, usually it's only the rules as written that stops a group from assigning who is in charge of creature status tracking, map making, etc. instead of focusing all that power and responsibility to one person; there are even "DM-less" TRPGs and it's very possible to switch to a completely DM-free style of gaming wherein the players themselves — through a combination of democratic process, trust and common sense — serve as both arbiter and houserule writer.

If "player empowerment" is to make the DM's life easier by handing some of his responsibilities to his friends — which allow him to give more time to other aspects of DMing, such as making the campaign "fun" (depending on what makes the campaign "fun")... or at the very least, allow him to run a campaign in spite of the "real world" taking up most of the DM's time — then I am of the opinion that yes you should empower players.  Players should be given an informed choice as to what they're getting into anyway, so you don't end up with crybaby players who would never play TRPGs forever simply because the DM or the group did not give those players a chance to either reconsider joining, or "suck it up "ike a real man" so to speak; even a statement as simple as "prep up at least 4 character sheets because you're likely going to kill off most of them on a regular basis" should be out there, as opposed to requiring players to invest hours of time and effort on elaborate backstories (making them feel very invested in their characters) only to kill them off in the first few minutes of the game, or sooner.  So why not have them get invested into the game by having them do stuff other than acting in character?  At worst, it would keep them busy while their turn hasn't come up yet.

But if "player empowerment" or "player entitlement" is to frustrate the DM by constantly citing game mechanics so as to "win" the game — when in fact the real way to "win" in a TRPG is often by being able to create and/or be immersed in the storytelling experience (usually through the eyes of your character) — then that is being just as much of a jerk as the DM that constantly frustrates players through clearly dick-ish gameplay (see bait-and-switch tactic implied in previous paragraph).

Now with regards to the "whose job is it?", I disagree on the distinction: DMs need to be "in the know" of what is happening in the world even when the PCs are not there to influence it, and that requires a hefty amount of immersion, even if they aren't immersing themselves in the world through the eyes of just one character.  Similarly, players that completely ignore the rules (and insist "story must rule!") aren't doing the group any favors, because this is, of course, a game... and it's easy to ruin the gaming experience of others while justifying your actions as story-based; stories easily change (see: how the polyhedral dice has altered stories for decades), rules need DM approval (or group consensus for DM-less groups) to change, and hogging the spotlight or ruining the fun of others is antithesis to the goal of the game in the first place.

Instead, I look at it more as I do governance: players willingly concede to giving one of them (the DM) the power to decide their characters' fates, so long as that person does his part in delivering the "fun" to them.  While the DM's "job" involves him focusing on the meta of things (meta-rules, meta-plot, etc.), that's only because of the responsibilities yoked upon him.

Wasn't it mentioned in one blog that one of the most important things that a DM should consider is that he should be the players' biggest fans?  It doesn't mean that he should be fawning over them and making the game not challenging at all — challenge is something players look for in the game, why remove it? — but that does mean that he should be the players' ally, even though the world the PCs are in is clearly out to get the players' characters.  It's the whole philosophy behind "yes, and" and "yes, but": I the DM might end up killing your characters, but you the players are still part of this group, and I would do everything I can to make sure that even if your characters die by the thousands, you'll enjoy the experience regardless... well, just don't be a dick about it, because I am the guy who has the final say on things, after all.

Oh and by the way, I relish in "lazy" DMing, not because I'm actually lazy, but because it allows me to do more with less effort.  It's not like I give the players one big chunk of DM duties to players, just a lot of the little things that some players tend to track anyway, like what number is needed to hit enemy A, and how high enemy A's bonus to hit is, and how much damage enemy A already took; also, for me "immersion" can be sidestepped a bit for the sake of "progression".
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This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
If "player empowerment" is to make the DM's life easier by handing some of his responsibilities to his friends — which allow him to give more time to other aspects of DMing, such as making the campaign "fun" (depending on what makes the campaign "fun")... or at the very least, allow him to run a campaign in spite of the "real world" taking up most of the DM's time — then I am of the opinion that yes you should empower players.

That's how I see it. My least favorite thing these days are player questions, particularly of the "Can I do this?" variety, when what they want to do is pretty clearly thematic, cool, and not overpowered, but simply isn't clearly spelled out in the rules. Any DM worth their salt is going to say "Yes, of course, and..." so the exchange just wastes time, sometimes copious amounts of it, if the rules are consulted and arguments ensue.

Questions about what characters sense or know are more understandable, but the issue there is that almost any answer the DM gives is likely to be less engaging and no less interesting or "right" than any answer the player could have come up with.

So, empowering players to make declarations rather than asking questions can be quite empowering for the entire game.

But if "player empowerment" or "player entitlement" is to frustrate the DM by constantly citing game mechanics so as to "win" the game — when in fact the real way to "win" in a TRPG is often by being able to create and/or be immersed in the storytelling experience (usually through the eyes of your character) — then that is being just as much of a jerk as the DM that constantly frustrates players through clearly dick-ish gameplay (see bait-and-switch tactic implied in previous paragraph).

Agreed. I don't know if the creation/immersion is the "real" way to "win" a TRPG, but the acquisition of made up power, items, gold, and information certainly isn't.

Now with regards to the "whose job is it?", I disagree on the distinction: DMs need to be "in the know" of what is happening in the world even when the PCs are not there to influence it, and that requires a hefty amount of immersion, even if they aren't immersing themselves in the world through the eyes of just one character.

I'm not sure what you mean. There doesn't actually need to be anything "happening in the world," until it happens to come up. I don't mean monsters just stand around or nothing happens until the characters show up, but that the information doesn't need to exist until the players would know about it. And they might know about things that don't appear to have a known cause. My favorite occurrance in a collaborative game is when someone declares something completely new and someone else decides that it was the cause of something else that had already been established. The original fact wasn't caused by the new fact, but as no cause had been established originally, there was room for one to be linked to it.

  Similarly, players that completely ignore the rules (and insist "story must rule!") aren't doing the group any favors, because this is, of course, a game... and it's easy to ruin the gaming experience of others while justifying your actions as story-based;

I'm not quite sure what you mean. Just because it's a game doesn't mean the most fun will be generated by following the rules. The rules ensure fairness, not necessarily fun. If fun can be generated while still maintaining fairness, the rules are much less important.

stories easily change (see: how the polyhedral dice has altered stories for decades), rules need DM approval (or group consensus for DM-less groups) to change, and hogging the spotlight or ruining the fun of others is antithesis to the goal of the game in the first place.

I agree.

Instead, I look at it more as I do governance: players willingly concede to giving one of them (the DM) the power to decide their characters' fates, so long as that person does his part in delivering the "fun" to them.

Well, that's where it all breaks down. The DM is empowered and entrusted and does their best, but when they fall short and aren't sure what to do (or don't realize they're falling short), the players' ability to rescue their own game is limited only by their degree of empowerment.

While the DM's "job" involves him focusing on the meta of things (meta-rules, meta-plot, etc.), that's only because of the responsibilities yoked upon him.

Traditionally, yes.

Wasn't it mentioned in one blog that one of the most important things that a DM should consider is that he should be the players' biggest fans?  It doesn't mean that he should be fawning over them and making the game not challenging at all — challenge is something players look for in the game, why remove it? — but that does mean that he should be the players' ally, even though the world the PCs are in is clearly out to get the players' characters.  It's the whole philosophy behind "yes, and" and "yes, but": I the DM might end up killing your characters, but you the players are still part of this group, and I would do everything I can to make sure that even if your characters die by the thousands, you'll enjoy the experience regardless... well, just don't be a dick about it, because I am the guy who has the final say on things, after all.

I agreed up until the end. Tongue-in-cheek that's funny, but if that's the only stick to fend of bad player behavior, we're back at the DM discouraging player antics through the rules.

Oh and by the way, I relish in "lazy" DMing, not because I'm actually lazy, but because it allows me to do more with less effort.  It's not like I give the players one big chunk of DM duties to players, just a lot of the little things that some players tend to track anyway, like what number is needed to hit enemy A, and how high enemy A's bonus to hit is, and how much damage enemy A already took; also, for me "immersion" can be sidestepped a bit for the sake of "progression".

Hear, hear.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I should also point out the motive of who speaks the terms Player Empowerment and Player Entitlement.

I think a DM who has an iron grip will complain about entitlement while a player who wants more control will claim entitlement.

1. If I want to do something the question is, am I empowered or entitled or neither? Empowerment means I can attempt. The true definition of Power regarding action, is being allowed to take that action regardless of others. I have the power to drink alcohol even though many people oppose alcohol. My ability to make the choice despite opposition is what grants me power. Of course, having empowerment doesn't mean I am entitled to have the alcohol (because I still have to find a way to acquire it).

2. If something is a natural right, I am entitled to it. This is a grey area for sure, because in my country ('Murica), there is no such thing. Now, the rich will call the needy and poor "entitled" for receiving welfare. The poor will call the rich entitled for receiving tax breaks and having a different set of rules to play the game by. Of course, the poor have a lot to go through to get government assistance, and by nature of entitlement nothing has to be done to earn it, such as grappling with government bureaucracies.

3. If my ability to make the choice is constrained, or controlled with consequences, than I don't have power or empowerment. I can toke a blunt of good green, but not legally. There are consequences ranging from difficulties at work to difficulties with the law. Nobody is following me with a gun, so I can still "try" and maybe succeed; but I am not empowered or entitled in this action.

Likewise.

1. I am entitled (but not empowered) to gain experience points for defeating monsters. (because I have to "win" the encounter).
I am empowered (but not entitled) to attack the monster but I am not entitled (because I have a chance to not hit).

2. I am neither entitled nor empowered to kill your character. Some play styles might grant me that, but it isn't there up front.


I believe that Player Behavior is a different issue than Entitlement or Empowerment. I believe behavior control (even to the point of blocking) does not deprive Entitlement or Empowerment because Player Behavior is a different umbrella of issues. I would hope my players have never felt disempowered, even when I Moderate Behavior declare something inappropriate.

Within; Without.

I have noticed one advantage of players being more empowered:  I hear, "You're the DM; you tell me!" much less, and that makes my job as DM so much easier.
I think the first portion of Dogs in the Vineyard's "How to GM" section better explains what I'm trying to say, summarized in the last paragraph that portion (emphasis mine):

All I’m saying is, the PCs’ stories aren’t yours to write and they aren’t yours to plan. If you’ve GMed many other roleplaying games, this’ll be the hardest part of all: let go of “what’s going to happen”. Play the town. Play your NPCs. Leave “what’s going to happen” to what happens.



To think that the DM is primarily or only concerned with meta or out-world stuff, while the players are primarily or only concerned with in-world stuff, doesn't really jive with me, because at the very least they need to have the NPCs and the world in general react in the most believable way possible... and for me that requires immersion and concern for the in-world, even if it's through the eyes of the NPCs rather than the PCs.

EDIT: Another way to look at it is through the Mechanics - Dynamics - Aesthetics of game design; game designers often approach the game from Mechanics to Aesthetics, whereas players often approach the game from Aesthetics to Mechanics.  Designing a game with the expectation that specific mechanics automatically produce specific aesthetics will more likely forget the Dynamics aspect of the game, and as a result may end up with a completely different set of aesthetics than anticipated.  IF DMs focus exclusively on the mechanical aspects of the game, they might fail to deliver the experiences that they want to deliver.  Similarly, if players focus exclusively on the aesthetics of the game with no consideration of mechanics, they end up placing the burden of mechanically enforcing the "feel", resulting in situations that wouldn't be as problematic if the players eventually figured out how the system works and what they can do to better mechanically enforce the feel that they're looking for in the game.
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If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
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This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
I think the first portion of Dogs in the Vineyard's "How to GM" section better explains what I'm trying to say, summarized in the last paragraph that portion (emphasis mine):

All I’m saying is, the PCs’ stories aren’t yours to write and they aren’t yours to plan. If you’ve GMed many other roleplaying games, this’ll be the hardest part of all: let go of “what’s going to happen”. Play the town. Play your NPCs. Leave “what’s going to happen” to what happens.



To think that the DM is primarily or only concerned with meta or out-world stuff, while the players are primarily or only concerned with in-world stuff, doesn't really jive with me, because at the very least they need to have the NPCs and the world in general react in the most believable way possible... and for me that requires immersion and concern for the in-world, even if it's through the eyes of the NPCs rather than the PCs.

Nah, it just need to be believable enough, and with bought in players the amount of believablity required is far below what a outside observer would find believable.

I can't tell if you do or don't agree with the DitV quote. I agree with it, except for the implication that only the GM should "play the town."

EDIT: Another way to look at it is through the Mechanics - Dynamics - Aesthetics of game design; game designers often approach the game from Mechanics to Aesthetics, whereas players often approach the game from Aesthetics to Mechanics.  Designing a game with the expectation that specific mechanics automatically produce specific aesthetics will more likely forget the Dynamics aspect of the game, and as a result may end up with a completely different set of aesthetics than anticipated.

I'm not familiar with this way of thinking, but I think I know what you mean. D&D's mechanics do not lead to the pictures in D&D books.

IF DMs focus exclusively on the mechanical aspects of the game, they might fail to deliver the experiences that they want to deliver.  Similarly, if players focus exclusively on the aesthetics of the game with no consideration of mechanics, they end up placing the burden of mechanically enforcing the "feel", resulting in situations that wouldn't be as problematic if the players eventually figured out how the system works and what they can do to better mechanically enforce the feel that they're looking for in the game.

I don't think I really agree with this. It's not that much of a burden. All rules are really just dispute resolution mechanics: if one side would prefer to see something minimized, and another would prefer to see it maximized, or everyone is just unsure of the most interesting something should resolve, you go to the rules to see who gets how much of what. Most of the time, dice aren't needed to "enforce the feel," just a sense of what everyone wants the "feel" to be. Maybe it's that I've never encountered rules that really do much for the "feel" of a system, compared to how much they get in the way of that feel. Or maybe, since I've encountered a fair amount of rules, it's that rules intrinsically don't do a good job at "enforcing feel."

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

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