Game Review: The Shotgun Diaries: A Zombie Survival Roleplaying Game by John Wick

Yes, The Shotgun Diaries is an older game, written back in 2009. Yes, it’s probably been reviewed a hundred times before. But I’ve had it in my queue for a while and decided to check it out.

At a mere 16 pages, this is one of the shortest complete RPGs I’ve read, but size really doesn’t matter when you have a clear concept and mechanic. The game seems to operate on three simple concepts.

First, it’s better to be part of a group than alone. You get bonuses for being in a group and there’s safety in numbers.

Second, eventually you’re going to get eaten. But after you turn, you have an opportunity to become a “capital z” Zombie and continue to play and eat your friends before the game is over. This reminds me of the insanity rules in Call of Cthulhu which I used once to massacre my entire party with a Tommy Gun. ๐Ÿ™‚

Third, if you have a few six-siders and some time, I think this would be a perfect “palate-cleansing game” if you want a break in your current campaign or are between campaigns. It doesn’t have to be meaningful or deep – after all, this is about zombies. Brain-eating, flesh-rending creatures whose sole purpose is to convert the living into the dead. Easy peasy.

So how do you play?

Make a survivor by picking an archetype. Each different archetype has different qualities. For instance, the Clever Survivor gets to roll at least four dice for “any risk involving tools, devices, or machines.” And the Dangerous Survivor (think cop, soldier, or gun nut), gets to roll at least four dice “for any risk involving weapons.” Then there’s the Fast Survivor, the Sneaky Survivor, the Strong Survivor, and the Helpless Survivor (usually a NPC).

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Once you have a survivor, they will usually want to take a risk. This is basically task resolution. But keep in mind that every task will usually involve killing a zombie. As Wick puts it: “In this game, I assume that if you are rolling dice, you are always killing zombies. Climbing a ladder? You’re killing zombies. Trying to get through the window? You’re killing zombies. Grocery shopping? You’re killing zombies.”

When you roll your dice, any “6’s” are successes. If you as a player don’t get any successes, you have to let the Zombie Master (ZM) say what happens to your character. If you succeed, you get to tell the tale. Along the way there are minor adjustments like staying together or being in a sanctuary, which will give you some bonus dice. And using tools and weapons may adjust your chances of success so a 4 or 5 or higher will count.

On the “Zombie Master” side of the table, you deal with using fear and time against your players. Sure, you have hordes of zombies you could throw at them. But it’s much more fun to ratchet up the stress a little at a time until they break.

Quite honestly now that I’ve more thoroughly read through The Shotgun Diaries, I know I want to give it a shot. It offers a simple enough mechanic that you could play a one-shot pretty easily or even do a full campaign along the lines of Resident Evil or The Walking Dead. So dust off your favorite zombie movies, figure out some plots, and get ready to torture a few “survivors” for a night or more!

For $5 at RPGNow, you really can’t beat the price for a quick, easy to learn game with infinite possibilities for your favorite zombie apocalypse. ๐Ÿ™‚

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4 comments to Game Review: The Shotgun Diaries: A Zombie Survival Roleplaying Game by John Wick

  • Ben

    The Zombie Clock of the Zombie Master is my FAVORITE BIT! It’s so much fun!

    • Fitz

      @Ben – I agree. There’s just something about how through a bit of fear and the Zombie Clock you can just keep ratcheting up the insanity! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m looking forward to running a one-shot using the system soon!

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