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Tips on playing Shadowrun 4th Edition on Roll20

So you’re considering playing Shadowrun on Roll20. Excellent choice - great game and a great table. But I’m guessing that you’ve come across a problem - Shadowrun has a fair few quirks that other games don’t have, which means it doesn’t always fit snugly into Roll20.

Fear not, for here are some tips my friends and I have been toying with to make the game run smooth.

Setting up a new page

Alright, you’re the GM for a brand new game. You’ve got some excellent ideas to run the players through the paces, now it’s time to set up your first page. Open the toolbar at the top of the screen (1) and click on the page settings (2).

Shadowrun uses the metric system, so set the scale to 1m. You can set the grid, fog of war and dynamic lighting to suit your preferences.

Setting up the page in this way means that people can use the measurement tool easily figure out things like weapon ranges and how far a character can move without sprinting. I like to setup a title page with the character tokens and the name of the game on it too. Partly because it helps set up the mood and partly because it means no matter what the players decide to do, I can just copy and paste them from the title onto the relevant map. I find 2 minutes in Roll20’s image search makes some decent title pages.

I also like to set up a token bag (or the GM Stash Page, as I call it) with some handy pre-made NPC tokens for either set pieces or random encounters. I find this particularly useful in something like Shadowrun, because my players have a habit of never doing what I expect them to.


Once you’ve created or uploaded a map, consider creating a handout with that map as an image ready for when a hacker decides to try and find the building plans on city hall or for when a mage decides to do some astral recon.

I also like to get some of the more forgettable rules set up as “cheat sheet handouts” - I love Shadowrun, but some of the rules just fall out of my ears between sessions. That way if a player needs to check exactly what the different fire modes on a weapon mean, or exactly how they can use edge, they just need to open the handout

Rolling Dice

Alright, this is Shadowrun. Which means you’re going to need buckets of 6 sided dice. There are two ways to deal with rolling the d6 of doom here; with a formula or with the dice tool. We’ll start with formula first.

Let’s use Smirky the Ork as our example.

Smirky is trying to outdrive a bunch of unhappy people on a crowded highway. To make things simple, we’re going to pretend that he has a pilot ground craft skill of 5 and a Reaction of 5. To make a driving check, we’d add up the skill and the attribute, so 5+5 which gives us a dice pool of 10. We’re not using the optional Action Movie rules, so a success will be a 5 or a 6.

All we really need to know is that in Roll 20, > is not “greater than” but “greater or equal to”. You can use the /roll command, or abbreviate it to /r. We’re rolling 10 6-sided die and we want to know every value of 5 or greater, So we’re going to type /r 10d6>5.

3 successes? Ew. Something tells me that our boy should have used edge on that roll. If we’d wanted to use edge and call upon the rule of 6, we’d put a ! next to the number of dice in our formula. In other words, we’d roll 10 6-sided “exploding” dice while wanting to know every value of 5 or over. So we’re going to type /r 10d6!>5.

You’ll notice that we rolled more that 10 dice there - that’s because the ! called upon the rule of 6. Good thing too - 5 success is a lot healthier.

If we wanted to, we could use the Dice Rolling tool. Personally, I prefer to just type the formula, but you might be someone who prefers an interface. So let’s take a looksee. You can ignore the basic dice rolls section and head straight for the advanced section - the chances that you’ll ever have to roll just 1d6 in Shadowrun are slim, and frankly if you’re ever in a situation where you can only roll one dice, you might want to do everything you can to avoid making that roll.

This interface is pretty simple - just fill in the fields as required. In Shadowrun you’ll not need to use the modifier box (the one to the right of the d6 field), and remember to set the target numbers to >5.

You’ll probably have seen the “Compounded (Shadowrun-style)” option under exploding dice. Well, don’t get too excited, because that doesn’t work with Shadowrun 4th edition. Hit the “Separate” option if you want exploding dice, otherwise it’ll add the extra values to the sixes you roll. That’s fine and all, but it won’t actually count as extra successes.

It’s worth noting that Roll20 has a pretty robust macro system. Unlike when the guide was first written, there is now a way to change the dice pool for a roll in-macro, but it looks a little unwieldy when you look at it. To modify the dice pool you'll put the initial roll value and a Prompt modifier into the macro: /r {(3 + ?{Modifier Total|0})d6}>5 This will ask the rolling player to enter a value for the Total Modifier, with a default value of 0 (See the Dice Reference, section "Roll Queries" for more info). As of yet, though, there doesn't seem to be a way to choose whether to use edge (! roll modifier) or not without making a duplicate macro.

Rolling initiative

To calculate your initiative in Shadowrun, you roll your initiative score in d6 and then add your initiative to that value. So let’s say Smirky the Orc has an initiative score of 10 (What? I like 10. It’s easy to remember. When you write a guide you can pick the numbers). So we’d roll 10d6 and add 10 to it to give us our initiative score. Luckily, we can do that straight in the command line and avoid doing math during a late night game session!

/r 10d6>5 + 10

We can even have our players drag and drop that 13 successes straight into the turn tracker. Now that is what I call “pretty sweet”.

How to deal with Initiative Passes Of course, we can’t talk about initiative in Shadowrun in Roll20 without walking smack into the initiative pass system. Unlike most games, we’re going to have to track the initiative score in each turn and which initiative pass in each turn we’re in. A character can have anywhere from one to four passes per combat turn, and after a lot of different attempts with things like using decimals or letters in the initiative tracker, I’ve found that there are two workable solutions;

1: Remember the initiative pass.

Not what I’d call foolproof, especially when it gets late in the evening. But this is the simplest method because you just need your brain.

2: Use the token markers

Unlike games like D&D4e, we’re not going to be tracking a lot of things like “marked by X, bloodied, 5 fire ongoing.” So that frees up the token markers. When combat starts, click on the tokens and select the markers option. The simply select a color for each initiative pass each character has at that time. This makes it easy to see how many passes a character has, and all we have to remember now is which pass we’re in.

Setting up a Character Sheet

You can automate some of the rolls in character sheets now, too. Just use @Attributes and Abilities. For example, a character with a Negotiation Dice Pool of 10 could have a Negotiation Attribute and linked Ability: /r {(@{Negotiation} + ?{Modifier Total|0})d6}>5 which, when run, will ask the user for any modifiers to their roll and then pull the value of the Attribute (in this case 10), then roll the dice and display the result. Unfortunately, as with Macros, there does not seem to be a way to set whether to use edge (Exploding Dice (! modifier)) or not without using a second "copy" ability.

That being said, here are some character sheet tips that my players and I find really useful.

We create and manage our characters on Chummer (which is free and well-supported), then tell the program to print the character sheet as text. This displays a preview window, which we can copy and paste directly into the character sheet. This really helps when a player can’t make a session, as it means another player can float their character, which is why I always make the character appear and be controllable by players.

You don’t have to export it as plain text of course - the character sheet also supports tables, so pick the format you like best and paste it in there.

Once we’ve copied the information in, we create three Attributes - Physical, Stun and Init. Fill these in with your physical and stun track, and put your physical initiative in the Init field. You could also create a MagicInit or MatrixInit for characters that require them.

Once we’ve filled out those fields we can automate the initiative by creating a new ability. Hit the add button and then the edit pencil and type /r @Init d6>5 + @Init. Then move the cursor to the space between Init and d6 and get rid of the space there. You should end up with this screen:

You can test the macro by hitting the d20 button to the right of the initiative roll - once you’re happy it’s working, press the green tick.

Before we save this character, we just need to scroll to the bottom and press duplicate. This saves a lot of time when we move on to our next character or NPC; paste in the new character sheet, drag a new portrait image in and alter the Physical, Stun and Initiative values.

I like to have the character initiatives ready to go at the bottom of my screen, so on each character I tick the “show in Macro bar” box and make sure that “show macro in quick bar” is selected on the settings tab .

It’s worth noting that these buttons only appear on my screen - players see only the macro buttons they choose to see (by selecting “show in macro bar” and “show macro in quick bar” as above)

When you place a token on the map for the first time, remember to link it to the character sheet. That way the tokens will reflect the correct physical and stun values no matter what map you’re on. To do that, click on the token and press the cogwheel (1) or double click on the token. Then select the character sheet to link the token to (2) and select Physical for bar 1 and Stun for Bar 2 (3). Your character is now linked, and any changes you make to the physical or stun values will be tracked throughout the table.

I recommend not linking trash NPCs to the sheet in this way; I’ve tried that in the past, and the result was that every time one biker took damage, the table thought that they all did.

Some useful Macros

Roll a regular Test [[(?{Ability|2}+?{Skill|2}-?{penilty|0})d6>5]]

Roll a Test with edge [[{(?{Ability|2}+?{Skill|2}+?{Edge|2}-?{Penalties|0})d6!}>5]]

Role a strait edge test [[{?{Edge|2}d6!}>5]]

Initiative tests /em has a total initiative of [[?{Initiative}+{(?{Reaction|2}+?{Intuition|2}-?{Wound Penalties|0})d6}>5]]

Initiative test with edge /em has a total initiative of [[?{Initiative}+{(?{Reaction|2}+?{Intuition|2}-?{Wound Penalties|0}+?{Edge|2})d6!}>5]]

There! You’re now all set to play Shadowrun. Enjoy! And pay your fixers a finders fee, dangit!

Useful Macros for 5th Edition

GM Specific /gr ?{number|1}d6

Regular Roll /me rolls [[?{Modifier|1}d6>5]] hits.

Regular Test /me gets [[(?{Attribute|1}+?{Skill|0}+?{Positive Modifiers|0}-?{Penalty|0})d6>5]] hits.

Initiative /me has a total initiative of [[(?{Reaction|1}+?{Intuition|1}-?{Wound Modifier|0}+?{Initiative Dice|1}d6) ?{tracker}]]

Defense /me rolls [[(?{Reaction|1}+?{Intuition|1}+?{Positive Modifier|0}-?{Negative Modifiers|0})d6>5]] hits for defense.

/me resist [[(?{Body|1}+?{Modified Armor|1})d6>5]] damage.