Ask any GM which virtual tabletop is their favorite, and they’re bound to have a very opinionated response. Some crave the in-depth customization of something like Foundry, where the GM can add tons of macros to account for every aspect of their map. Others go where the players are, picking something like Roll20 for its brand name and relative ease of use. And yet another group picks Owlbear Rodeo because it ditches the bells and whistles so that you can just play the darn game.
Owlbear Rodeo - A Map And Tokens
Owlbear Rodeo’s main selling point is its straightforwardness–it gives you some default maps and tokens, and that’s it. Well, technically there are also simple map interaction tools, a note tool, and a beta audio sharing function. But those are totally optional. It’s mostly about the map and tokens.
Owlbear Rodeo puts the “tabletop” in virtual tabletop by removing things like an initiative tracker, dynamic lighting, and flashy token effects like transformations. It presents a blank canvas with colored, gridded squares that the GM can quickly alter. This essentially makes it the digital version of putting a dry erase board down on the table and using coins for characters.
As a player, you can see the full map and move all tokens around. Again, just like being at a physical table. There’s a dice roller on the upper left that’s hidden by a toggle. Clicking it summons a digital version of a simple wooden dice tray and buttons for each of the seven standard dice. On the right side of the screen, you’ll see a toolbar that has buttons for drawing on the map, measuring distances, and more. These are easy to grasp–no macro settings needed to activate class features, no hidden hotkeys to memorize. Just go on the website and click on stuff to move it around.
What GMs Can Do On Owlbear Rodeo
If you’re just starting out as an online GM, Owlbear Rodeo is the perfect virtual tabletop for you. You invite players by sharing a link to your room–no profiles or character sheets required.
Owlbear Rodeo gives you a small list of default items to get you started. Maps will be a 22x22 grid of common backdrops like stone, dirt, or wood planks. The given tokens are more symbolic than immersive (think a fist for monk or lute for bard) but get the job done. If you’d rather add your own flair, Owlbear Rodeo lets you upload your own images for maps and tokens. A lot of your recent stuff will stay around as long as you don’t clear your cache, though you can create an account if you’d rather have your uploads saved.
One final neat thing that Owlbear Rodeo offers is audio sharing. This “experimental” setting allows the host to share their computer’s audio with their players. It’s a wonderful way to add music or ambiance to a game as it cuts out a lot of steps. Rather than needing to upload all your songs or sort through Roll20’s many tracks, you can just pop on a YouTube playlist and get back to the action.
A Team Effort
Owlbear Rodeo’s excellent simplicity is both its biggest strength and its greatest weakness. Since it is just a platform for maps and tokens, you can’t use it as a rules reference, video chat service, or, well, anything else. As such, you have to use Discord, D&D Beyond, rulebooks, and other supplemental tools in concert with Owlbear Rodeo.
That might not be a big deal for some–many GMs already forego VTT chat functions for something better like Zoom. Still, GMs that use Owlbear Rodeo will have to consider the questions of where to host things like character sheets and inventory. It also might mean more bookkeeping for the GM, as you’ll need to keep your rulebooks/wikis handy. Depending on where you play (shoutout to the tiny laptop crowd), this will eat up your screen very quickly as you’ll need three windows open just for the basic play elements.
That said, Owlbear Rodeo is a fantastic resource for getting people playing now and worrying about the complexities of the rules later. In this way, it’s the ideal VTT for beginners and one-shots. Just check out some of our one-shots on StartPlaying to see it in action!