DnD 5e Level Up

Here’s a quick checklist on how to level up in DnD 5e:

  1. Increase your hit points. Either roll your class’ hit die or take the average result of that hit die. Then, add your Constitution modifier.

  2. Gain one hit die.

  3. Check for new class or subclass features. Your class table in the Player’s Handbook will tell you at which levels you gain these features. Some of these features also increase in power as you level up.

  4. Check for Ability Score Improvements. These always happen when you reach levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19 in a class. Rogues get an additional ASI at level 10 and Fighters get additional ASIs at levels 8 and 14. You may also choose a Feat instead of an ASI at these levels.

  5. Check if your proficiency bonus increases. This happens at character levels 5, 9, 13, and 17. In turn, this will increase your skill and saving throw modifiers by 1 for all skills and saving throws your character is proficient in.

  6. Change modifiers. If you reached a level where you gained ASIs, you likely changed an ability modifier or two. For example, you may have to increase your attack bonus, damage bonus, initiative, armor class, passive perception, spell attack bonus, or spell save DC. Skill modifiers related to the Ability Score you increased also increase.

  7. Check for level-dependent racial features. Some racial features are granted at certain levels or passively increase in power as you increase in level.

  8. You can choose to multiclass. See page 164 of the Player’s Handbook for more details.

  9. For Spell Casters

  10. Add new spell slots. Casters gain additional and higher-leveled spell slots as they level.

  11. Add new spells. If your class uses the Spells Known mechanic or you gain new spells for free via a subclass.

  12. Replace one Spell Known. If you’re class that uses the Spells Known mechanic, you may replace one of your known spells with a different, level-appropriate spell from the class spell list.

  13. Replace a cantrip you know. At any level when your class gains an ASI, you can also replace one of your class’ cantrips with another from the same class.

  14. Increase number of prepared spells. The calculation is: # Prepared Spells = (Class Level / 2) + Spellcasting Ability Modifier

  15. Increase the power of damaging cantrips. At character levels 5, 11, 17.

DnD 5e Level Up

Leveling up in roleplaying games is a ton of fun. New powers, stronger statistics, and access to greater challenges (along with more powerful rewards) are all reasons why players enjoy gaining levels.

As the progenitor of the fantasy roleplaying genre, Dungeons and Dragons is no different. Even better, it comes with a narrative element that makes your character’s growth feel more meaningful and connected to the adventures you engage in.

This article will cover the mechanics of leveling up in DnD, as well as provide tips for DMs to make the leveling process smooth.

What Happens When You Level Up in DnD 5e?

Here’s a checklist of things that happen when you level up in DnD 5e:

    Things That Always Happen When You Level Up

  1. Your hit points increase. Every time your character increases a level, they gain hit points. You have two choices when gaining hit points:

    • Roll your class’ hit die. Each class has a specific die, indicated in the table below. You can choose to roll the die and accept the result. Many DMs allow players to re-roll die rolls of 1, but this is not an official rule.

    • Use the average result of the your class’ hit die roll (rounded up). Players can also choose not to roll their hit die, and instead take the average die roll instead. This is the safer option, but you’ll never gain the maximum possible hit points per level this way.

    Class Hit Dice (Average Roll) Total Hit Points Increase
    Barbarian d12 (7) d12 (7) + Constitution modifier
    Bard d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier
    Cleric d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier
    Druid d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier
    Fighter d10 (6) d10 (6) + Constitution modifier
    Monk d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier
    Paladin d10 (6) d10 (6) + Constitution modifier
    Ranger d10 (6) d10 (6) + Constitution modifier
    Rogue d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier
    Sorcerer d6 (4) d6 (4) + Constitution modifier
    Warlock d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier
    Wizard d6 (4) d6 (4) + Constitution modifier
    Artificier d8 (5) d8 (5) + Constitution modifier

    For example, if you level up as a Barbarian with a Constitution modifier of +3, you have two options to increase your hit points. Roll a d12 and add 3 to the result or gain 10 hit points (7, the average die roll of a d12, + 3).

    Finally, if your character’s Consitution modifier increases as a result of a Constitution ability score improvement, you gain 1 hit point for each level you have attained.

    To continue our Barbarian example, if they were to reach level 8 and increase their Constitution modifier to +4, they would instantly gain an additional +8 hit points from this alone.

    In short, Constitution modifiers apply retroactively to the levels you’ve gained, since you would have been adding +1 hit points for each level if your modifier had been 1 higher from the start.

  2. You gain a hit die. This is the same value die as the one used to increase your hit points. Hit dice are used to regain hit points during short rests. Your total hit dice maximum is always equal to your character’s level.

  3. Things That Might Happen When You Level Up

  4. You gain new class and subclass features. At many levels (more for martials and less often for casters), you will gain new class and subclass features. Subclasses are selected at levels 1-3, and you will gain several subclass-specific features from levels 1-20. Each class has its own level-specific features, and all subclasses for that class get new features at the same level.

    There is a table that will tell you exactly what features your class gains as you level up, as well as what levels include subclass bonuses (which will be labeled as something like “Divine Domain feature” or “Path feature,” depending on the terminology the class uses to describe its subclasses).

    These can be found on:

  5. You gain Ability Score Improvements (ASIs) or feats. At certain class levels, you will have the option to increase one ability score by 2 or two ability scores by 1. Depending on your class, this happens at different levels:

    • Every class: Levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19.

    • Fighter: Same as every class, with two additional ASIs at levels 6 and 14.

    • Rogue. Same as every class, with one additional ASI at level 10.

    You cannot increase an ability score past 20 using this.

    Increasing your ability scores will have effects on other things for your character, which we’ll explain more later on. ASIs are based on class level, not character level if you multiclass (SAC 8).

    Additionally, you can choose a Feat instead of taking an Ability Score Improvement. Feats offer additional ways to customize your character beyond the raw numerical increases that ASIs provide. This is technically an optional rule, but most DMs use it.

  6. Your character’s proficiency bonus increases by 1 at levels 5, 9, 13, and 17. This happens automatically as your character level increases. You can refer to the table below for what proficiency modifier is associated with which level range:

    Level Range Proficiency Bonus
    Levels 1-4 +2
    Levels 5-8 +3
    Levels 9-12 +4
    Levels 13-16 +5
    Levels 17-20 +6

    Your proficiency bonus increases your attack and damage rolls with weapons you’re proficient with, as well as increasing your modifier to skill checks in skills that you’re proficient with.

  7. You gain new spell slots. Most spell casters start at 1st level with 2 spell slots (except Paladins and Rangers, who gain spellcasting and spell slots at 2nd level. The number of spell slots (ammunition to cast spells) you have and the level of those spell slots (their relative power) automatically increases as you level up in any spellcasting class.

  8. You gain new spells. Every spellcasting class is a bit different, with Clerics, Druids, Paladins, and Artificers having access to their whole suite of level-appropriate spells as soon as they level up. Other spellcasters, like Bards, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards, learn a limited amount of spells per level.

    All spell casters gain access to more powerful, higher-leveled spells as they level up. Additionally, many spell caster subclasses come with free spells at certain levels. Most subclasses can automatically add these to their spell lists without counting against their spells known (except for Warlock subclasses).

  9. You gain new level-dependent racial features. Some racial features grant abilities at a certain level, like Drow Magic, or passively increase in potency as your character levels up, like Dwarven Toughness or a Dragonborn’s Breath Weapon.

  10. Things You Can Choose to Do When You Level Up

  11. You can choose to multiclass. Multiclassing is an optional rule that most DnD groups use. It allows your character to gain a level in a new class, rather than gaining a level wtih your current class. Each class has different ability score minimum prerequesites to multiclass into.

    If you choose to multiclass, be sure to pay attention to the differences between character levels and class levels. Things like ASIs, the hit die you roll to increase hit points on leveling up, and spell slots are tied to your level in a particular class, while things like your proficiency bonus, total hit dice, and cantrip damage scaling are tied to your overall character level.

  12. You can replace one of your spells known. For caster classes that are limited to a certain number of Spells Known, every time you level up in that class, you can “choose one of the [class] spells you know and replace it with another spell from the [class] spell list.”

  13. Things You Can Sometimes Choose to Do When You Level Up

  14. You can replace one cantrip you know. Artificers can replace one cantrip they know with another cantrip from the same class spell list whenever they level up in the Artificer class. Other classes can do the same, but only they reach a level that grants an Ability Score Improvement:

    (Wizards can also change their cantrips, but they don’t need to level up to do so; once they’re 3rd level, they can change one Wizard cantrip after taking a long rest).

Other Things That Might Change as a Result of Leveling Up

  • Change affected modifiers. If you reached a level where you attained ASIs and used them, you likely changed one or two ability modifiers as a result. These ability modifiers have a bearing on many other modifiers that your character uses all the time, such as:

    • Initiative (Dexterity)

    • Armor Class (Dexterity)

    • Attack Bonus (Dexterity or Strength)

    • Attack Damage Bonus (Dexterity or Strength)

    • Passive Perception (Wisdom)

    • Spell Attack Bonus (class-dependent)

    • Spell Save DC (class-dependent)

    Additionally, every skill modifier will increase for the associated ability score (e.g., your Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion skill modifiers all increase by 1 if your Charisma modifier increase by 1).

    If your proficiency modifier increased as a result of leveling up, you also need to add 1 your modifier for saving throws and skills that you’re proficient in.

  • Increase number of prepared spells. If your class prepares spells, the number you can prepare is tied to your class level and your ability score modifier. The calculation is: # Prepared Spells = (Class Level / 2) + Spellcasting Ability Modifier

  • Update class and subclass features. Some class and subclass features increase in power as your character levels up, like Bardic Inspiration and Sneak Attack.

  • Increase the power of damaging cantrips. All damaging cantrips scale with your character level, gaining one additional damage die at levels 5, 11, and 17.

d&d 5e character sheet level up

When Do You Level Up in DnD 5e?

You level up in DnD when you reach a certain experience point threshold or whne you reach a milestone that your DM deems appropriate for leveling up.

  • XP Level Up System

    Here’s how much XP you need to level up in DnD 5e:

    Level Experience Points
    1 0
    2 300
    3 900
    4 2,700
    5 6,500
    6 14,000
    7 23,000
    8 34,000
    9 48,000
    10 64,000
    11 85,000
    12 100,000
    13 120,000
    14 140,000
    15 165,000
    16 195,000
    17 225,000
    18 265,000
    19 305,000
    20 355,000

    XP can be earned by defeating monsters in combat, completing noncombat challenges, and for reaching important milestones (DMG 260-1).

  • Level Advancement Without XP

    The Dungeon Master’s Guide also gives the option for DMs to do away with experience points altogether. It also suggests scaling leveling to take longer as players level up to emulate what the XP leveling method feels like.

    Many DMs prefer this method because tracking player XP is tedious and time-consuming.

You do not need to take a long rest to level up. This has been confirmed in two separate Sage Advice threads by Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins.

As for the exact moment when your character levels up, it’s up to your DM. That Crawford thread also reminds DMs that there is a variant rule where DMs can require training or studying to gain new levels, which costs time and gold (DMG 131).

Most DMs level characters up at the end of a session, as the level-up process can be tricky and time-consuming.

What Happens After 20th Level in DnD?

The highest level is 20th, so players cannot progress past this point. However, the Dungeon Master’s Guide does offer the Epic Boons system, where 20th-level characters can gain access to special powers (DMG 231).

DM Tips for Leveling Up

Now that we’ve covered all the rules, here’s some advice for DMs out there, based on my experiences with leveling characters up:

  • Level up after or between sessions. Leveling up takes time and, more importantly, focus away from game time. If you’re using the XP method, I suggest not actually “dinging” the players up a level until after the session (but continue recording excess XP they gain).

    Players typically prefer this method as well. It’s much more fun to take your time combing through new features, choosing new spells, and learning how your character has grown in power. It isn’t the sort of activity you want to rush.

  • Let players re-roll 1s on hit point increase rolls. If your players don’t take the average hit die result and decide to actually roll their class’ hit die to determine how many hit points they gain on leveling up, I suggest allowing them to re-roll any die rolls of 1.

    It just feels bad to increase in health so little upon leveling up, especially if you have a weak Constitution modifier.

  • Scale up time between leveling if you’re using the milestone method. I personally use the milestone method because I hate tracking XP. Using this method, I usually run with the following general idea, based on the “session-based advancement” system suggested in the DMG (pg. 261):

    • Levels 1-3: One session per level

    • Levels 4-6: Two sessions per level

    • Levels 7+: Three sessions per level

    Using this method, a level 1-20 campaign will take 50 weeks.

    I also mix this idea with the “story-based” advancement concept when it makes sense. For example, if a party of 5th-level players has completed 2 sessions but I know there’s a big boss fight in the next session, I’ll delay leveling them up until they complete this important chapter of the story.

  • Consider what leveling method works best for you and your players. I just outlined my leveling method above because it works for me and my players enjoy that leveling pace. You and your players’ preferences may vary.

    I suggest talking to your players about what sort of leveling pace they want.

    Some tables are completely uninterested in the lower tiers of play, and want to get to battling ancient dragons ASAP, rather than helping mayors deal with bandit problems.

    For these sorts of players, I’d suggest starting at higher than level one — yes, that is an option. And then I’d also turn up the pace of leveling so that the players have something new and shiny to play with each session.

    Other tables would be overwhelmed by such rapid advancement and feel that their character’s stories are being rushed along too quickly. They might also enjoy the slow narrative progression, where they can really explore how their character came to grow into an awesome force through time and practice.

    It’s ultimately a balancing act, and most tables will fall somewhere in between. The key is to find a pace where your players are gaining new powers at a fast enough rate to stay excited and engaged, while also having enough time to actually enjoy these new powers as the most powerful in their arsenal.