Last weekend I attempted to run the first part of Lost Mines of Phandelver, but didn't get much further than three combat encounters as the PCs ran around the woods being attacked by goblins.
There were two many reasons why the game did not progress very far. First, it was a pretty large group of eight players, some of which were very new to the game. Secondly, I was the only person with a flat surface on which to roll dice. Everyone else was sitting on the floor or in sofas without coffee tables. Because of this, I decided I would roll for everyone, in the true old-school tradition.
It was awful.
There isn't a lot of math or things to keep track of in D&D 5e, but when you are the only one doing any of the calculating, it’s all enough to turn your head into mush. Compound this with having to ask players for if they are proficient in something, what is their ability modifier (no, that is your ability score, I need the modifier) and if they have any other relevant bonuses or features. I would end up rolling a die, staring at the result for a while, my brain freezing up, and then just make a call based on if it was a low or high roll.
When I went home that night I told my wife “never again” would I run a game like that.
But yesterday I had some time on my hands as the internet cut out at work, so I figured I’d solve the problem rather than just give up on that mode of play. My solution is a small chart that resembles the charts that power DC Heroes, which compares the ability of the character to the challenge of the task they are performing and then gives a target number.
The rows on the left refer to the general skill of the character in regards to the action he is performing. For example, a fighter is trained in hitting an enemy with a sword, but a wizard would be untrained in doing the same thing. The wizard may even be poor at it if the weapon is a bastard sword or other device that requires martial training. A high level fighter, or one with the archery fighting style would be an expert when firing an arrow at a goblin.
The columns on the chart reflect the relative difficulty of the action. For example, hurting a goblin with a sword may be an average action. Hurting an ogre with the same sword may be hard and hurting an ancient red dragon would be an epic action. Hurting a horse or other defenseless target would be easy.
The intersection of the skill level and challenge level is the target number for a d20 roll. Any roll of the target number or better succeeds. There is no match or numerical bonuses. If you think the character should get a special bonus or penalty, just shift the challenge level accordingly or use the advantage mechanic.
Damage is rolled using the dice from the PHB +2. This keeps combat moving very fast and attempts to account for bonuses from modifiers. Critical hits do maximum damage and critical failures cause something bad to happen, like dropping the weapon or falling prone.