Overland flow is the initial driver of slope surface erosion. To discover resistance characteristics of overland flow influenced by rainfall intensity and roughness, indoor simulated rainfall experiments with six kinds of roughness, five flow discharges, and five rainfall intensities were investigated. Results showed that overland flow over rough surfaces could be considered as laminar and turbulent flow when using flow Reynolds number. According to roll waves observed, flow regimes belonged to the laminar transitional zone based on the viscosity-to-depth ratio. A critical water depth formula for overland flow was re-derived, and it showed that this test water flow consisted of supercritical flow in most cases, and subcritical flow in only a few cases. The flow resistance coefficient increased with increasing roughness, whereas it decreased as rainfall intensity increased. Considering the ‘increasing resistance’ phenomenon, this study focused on frictional resistance, thickness of the viscous sublayer, pressure drag and roll waves. Finally, a formula for sheet flow resistance was proposed based on resistance segmentation and multi-element linear regression. These findings are of significance both for understanding the characteristics and development of overland flow and overland flow dynamics.