We have been discussing the way the rules can help and hinder players and game masters acting like jerks over at Zach's place, RPG Blog II. Zach is, as you might know, one of the voices of The RPG Circus. They had ChattyDM over for a talk at their show, and he claimed that the reign of the tyrannical DM was now over. Since I have little time to listen to podcasts I wont try to put words in the mouth of Chatty, but the way the discussion went on Zach's blog made me chip in with my own two cents.
Now, I don't think the tyranny of anything have ended. In the latest edition of D&D I would even like to claim that the Tyranny of the Player have reared its ugly head. Now we have a game where every character class plays very much like the other, and where everything you can do is written down as a Power. While it don't have to be that way, just like the former editions of the game didn't have to bring on the tyranny of the DM, it has opened the door for something which I consider just as bad as the Tyranny of the DM.
When you have a game system which is open for interpretation, and where different characters have different game mechanics, you might have to add common sense. You might also have to add some on the spot rulings. More often than not you might also have to play the social game and be graceful enough to admit that your character is not as powerful as the others at all occasions. Basically, it means that in order for the game to work smoothly you will have to have a bit of trust. That trust has to work both ways across the screen. Preferably it also extends in between the players. If you know that the game is not a zero sum game of "balance", you will have to trust that the other people around the table is not out to ruin your game. I could also mention the word "fun", but we all know old schoolers hate fun.
Also, have you considered that maybe some of those stories you have heard told about how someone totally was screwed over by his DM might actually been what that player deserved? Mike Mornard tells us it happened in the Greyhawk campaign, and I'm wondering if not that has been the reason more than once. That's not bad DM-ing. It's bad Playing, and they need just as much empowerment as lousy DM's need. 'nuff said.