I'm thinking a game about People Who Are Screwed, or People Who Were Nearly Screwed. Like if you take the central idea of Call of Cthulhu, where you're basically boned and it's up to you to be boned later, if at all, and so you fight and struggle for a while, except that CoC is basically D&D with a different theme and a lot of insanity and that's not what I'm after.
I'm thinking a game where your resources are limited and represent ways that the player can control the narrative of the game. A game in which the DM is talking and the player has the ability to say "Wait, but I," and the DM has to incorporate what he said (provided it makes sense, and the character is reasonably able to do that thing), and maybe make the player spend their resource to make sure that it does happen.
There should be a "central resource" that lets you absorb failures and keep moving, like a health system in a more traditional game. So you might spend a point of Gun but you should have spent more because the guy lives through the gunshot and punches you in the mouth, and even though you have the upper hand since he's already wounded he's a tough guy, and you lose two health as well. Or maybe you try and use your Friendly Guard to get you to a less secure part of the prison, but it turns out that you should have used more points because he put you in minimum security instead, where there's a guy from the other gang and it isn't long before he's punching the shit out of you and you can't defend yourself, so you get a little beat up and lose one health... See what I'm getting at?
So the nucleus of the game is such: You have a character sheet, which represents a character. On this sheet are a number of resources, which are rated numerically. Some of the things are possessions, and some of the things are skills, and some are otherwise depletable assets. A zombie survivor might have Gun 6 or Crowbar 2, but a prisoner might have Colluding Guard 3 and Shank 1, Drugs 2, and so on, representing the finite reserves of resources that the character has in their possession. All resources are depleted the same way, because the time frame of the session is such that meaningfully recovering one's strength is impossible; the pressure is always on to move forwards or irrecoverably lose.
|Of course, moving forwards has its own risks, which is the point of the game.|
And the DM would have to set a good goal, one that is (probably) possible in a single session. Escaping an alien invasion is a good goal, as is stopping a terrorist from detonating a bomb on christmas. "Finding all the treasure" is not a particularly good one, but "finding the Scepter of Torgol" might be. "Kill all the Aliens" is an extremely poor one, but "Find and slay the Queen" is fantastic.
The more I think about it, the more cool ideas I get. This idea might be the solution I'm looking for, and it should be fully worth fleshing out. I might put up a smallish PDF today or tomorrow, time permitting- I'm still on a bit of a vacation with the wife, after all!