Dale adapted slightly the better and created a series of chances before the break, three of them falling to veteran midfielder Lee Cartwright.
The former Preston North End legend saw a shot well saved by Shane Higgs low to his left and then got onto the end of two low, searching crosses from Ernie Cooksey.
The Cheltenham defence allowed Cooksey to spray two balls right across the face of their goal and Cartwright, arriving at the far post, struck one against the outside of the post and saw the other blocked by the legs of Higgs.
Cheltenham had offered little to nothing as an attacking force during the first period but they grabbed the lead with their first effort on target two minutes before the break.
Right-back Jerry Gill found central defender Gavin Caines with a throw-in and the big man neatly side-stepped his marker before crossing for Steve Guinan to plant a free header past Matthew Gilks from eight yards.
The half-time score-line was harsh on Rochdale and it was the visitors who continued to create the better chances after the break.
Cooksey and John Doolan both shot wide from the edge of the area and talented striker Rickie Lambert saw a low drive held by Higgs with Iyseden Christie lurking for any rebound.
Rochdale finally registered a deserved equaliser eight minutes from time when Doolan's angled ball into the penalty area was taken on the chest by Lambert, who then turned sharply towards goal before poking a shot beyond Higgs.
Cheltenham felt they should have had a penalty in the closing stages for a foul on Guinan, but a second goal for them would have given the result a distorted look. If the Robins are to maintain their play-off ambitions they will have to play much better than this.