Chances are, if you were playing D&D in 2020 or 2021, you might have been playing your game online. The global pandemic changed the scene for a lot of people. With a turn to play online, many groups started using Virtual Table Top programs (VTT). There are some popular ones like Roll20, Fantasy Grounds and Foundry is a new and up-coming tool. I prefer Owlbear Rodeo. Its a great minimalist tool. It gets maps in front of your group and lets players experience combat in a tactical fashion.

Owlbear Rodeo: Features Light, On Purpose

My players are ones easily intimidated by new tools. Most of them haven’t even read the Player’s Handbook cover to cover. Reality is, I can’t expect them to learn a new software to play the game. Likewise, I don’t want to invest more money in buying material I already own on another platform. I simply need a way to show maps and run combat.
That is what Owlbear Rodeo does perfectly. There are no logins. There is no fancy new toolset to master. All you do, is:
  1. Launch a game
  2. Load your map
  3. Drop the tokens in place
  4. Share the link with your group
  5. Run the combat

The Minimalist’s VTT

To me, I love the minimalist approach of Owlbear Rodeo. I don’t need nor want a bunch of fancy tools to run my combats and games. I need a grid set up so we can move our minis around the board. Owlbear does have a shared dice roller in it, but I trust my players and let them roll physical dice. Its what I also chose to do.
Despite having no logins. Owlbear uses a cookie/cache system to remember your computer set up. This means, it will save my maps for me. If the combat is running long we can save it for another session. It also lets me prepare my “set pieces” ahead of time. That way, we can get straight to the action with little set up time.
You can also keep everyone in the same VTT screen for the whole session. As the game owner on Owlbear Rodeo you can switch maps when your ready to go to the next one. Your players will see the updated map in live time and you’ll have minimal downtime. You need to add the new tokens to the map of course (if you didn’t pre-build the map ahead of time).

Loading Maps and Running a game in Owlbear Rodeo:

As I mentioned above there are five real steps to running a game in Owlbear Rodeo. They should be pretty simple to follow on your own. But, I’m providing a quick tutorial on how to load a map and get your combats running.

1. Launch a Game

Load up Owlbear Rodeo. Select the “Start Game” Option. It will ask if you want to set a password. Its your choice if you want to or not. I don’t think there are many hackers on Owlbear Rodeo, but what do I know. Select start.
Owlbear Rodeo Start Page

2. Load your map

When the screen pops up, it will be a blank blue screen with some features on the side. The first thing you’ll want to do is load a map. To do that, click on the photo icon in the top right of the interface (see screenshot).
Owlbear Rodeo Load Map
A pop up will appear that will ask you to load your map or select one you already have loaded. Upload your map. The map should appear in the library of options now.
Click on the map’s thumbnail. You will see a pencil in the top right of your map. Here, you can edit your maps features: grid size, grid type and so on. Make sure you have your features set correctly for the map to function properly. If you are using maps from r/battlemaps, r/dndmaps or any where else you can find great D&D cartographers, they will usually tell you the grid size. This will help you snap tokens to the grid appropriately. Save your map. Then, hit Select on the map selection pop up.
Owlbear Rodeo Edit Map
Owlbear Rodeo Map Select

3. Drop the tokens in place

Now that you have your map loaded, its time to populate it. On the right hand side, Owlbear Rodeo provides a bunch of default tokens for you to use. Drag and drop the tokens onto your map. You can change the token size by drag clicking on the token and dragging the side arrows that pop up. Add labels to the token so you and your players know who is who.
You will see a color palette appear as well when you click on a token. This lets you apply different colored rings to the tokens. These are perfect for marking status effects on the tokens. Things like: concentration, poisoned, prone, and so on. See the short gif for how all those things work.
Owlbear Rodeo Token Editing
If you are feeling like you need some customization, you can create your own tokens and upload them into Owlbear. There are a couple of simple token creation websites out there. I like The Fateful Force.

4. Share the Link

Once you are at the table and ready to run your combat(s). All you need to do is share the link with them. In the bottom left, select the icon that has a person’s head with a plus sign. This will pop up a small window that will give you a shareable link. Your players can join with that. If you set a password for your game, be sure to provide that as well so they can join.

5. Run the Combat

Your ready to run your combat! There are lots of other tools that can make running the combat a breeze. They are pretty self-explanatory. So, I will leave them to you to explore as you learn your way through the tool.

My Experience with Owlbear Rodeo

I have played my D&D campaigns online exclusively for the last 4+ years. My players are scattered across the United States. But we all can make time for a couple of hours to hop in a video call and roll some dice. We have designed those expectations into our campaign and lifestyle. 
Over the last 18+ months we have been using Owlbear Rodeo. Before using Owlbear Rodeo, we literally used a GIMP map set up where I would share my screen. The players would tell me where they wanted their tokens to go and I would move them. It worked okay for us. But it was definitely a friction point. It was an extra burden for me as a DM to have to control all the tokens and move the players. I had enough things to worry about.
When I learned about Owlbear Rodeo and its simplicity, we made the switch. Its been a great tool. My players love being able to control their tokens. And I have zero regrets. Its reduced my cognitive load and I can focus on running more engaging combats.
I can understand why some groups enjoy the more feature rich VTTs. They have a lot of cool features and you can do a lot with them. But for my group, Owlbear Rodeo hits all our major needs. If you think your party is similar be sure to try it out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A big thanks to Mitch and Nicola for making such a great tool!
Feature Art Credit: Ede László