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We are fairly new to D&D and we are not really sure about how to handle one thing as provided by the rules. It's about the point in time when you level up in-game.

The rules tell us this:

As your character goes on adventures and overcomes challenges, he or she gains experience, represented by experience points. A character who reaches a specified experience point total advances in capability. This advancement is called gaining a level.

When your character gains a level, his or her class often grants additional features, as detailed in the class description. Some of these features allow you to increase your ability scores, either increasing two scores by 1 each or increasing one score by 2. You can't increase an ability score above 20. In addition, every character's proficiency bonus increases at certain levels.

We understand that if you gain a specific amount of XP you advance to an higher level, but we want to know how this is expressed in game how according to the rules. Does it really happen instantaneously?

We heard from other players that in earlier editions this did happen after a long rest, but we just cannot find any clue about it in the 5e rules.

We could make a homebrew rule for that but mainly we just want to know if we are just too blind to find it. 😅

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 17 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll leave it as just related: What do characters need to do to level up? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 17 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil: I've edited the title of the linked question to more accurately reflect what it's asking, and edited your comment to reference the new title. Hope you don't mind :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 18 at 2:20
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The game doesn't specify

There is no specified wait or trigger for when you level up. As such level up can be taken to happen whenever you gain enough XP to progress.

Personal advice to the DM: delay the actual level up to a long rest at the end of a session. There's lots of fiddly bits to deal with upon level up you don't want to spend time on that in session, and it's just way easier to start a new session with a clean slate character sheet.

I personally do this with milestone levelling where it works fairly smoothly, if you are using XP make an agreement with your players. They probably don't want to spend their precious play-time on browsing spells, feats, coping down features, or recalculating their modifiers.


As a footnote I'll list some questions which arise from not levelling along with a long rest. They're not meant as a discouragement of play-style, but as a reference for things you may well have to adjudicate.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I will foward this to our DM. I think we will discuss all these options and we will get something that works for us. \$\endgroup\$ – dukemadcat Apr 17 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ The fact that the game doesn't require a long rest or anything else to level up as written is also reiterated in this pair of (unofficial) tweets by Chris Perkins: "If a rest was needed [to level up], the text would say so. [...] The DM decides when characters gain XP and when they advance in level." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 18 at 2:29
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The previous response by @Someone_Evil does a great job speaking to the mechanics of leveling up in game and the advantage of waiting until a long rest or player break to make the changes.

I want to expand on this from the perspective of role-playing. When leveling up, it can either be just a mechanical, behind-the-scenes aspect with the character suddenly having more talents (great for action-focused parties), or you can incorporate aspects of these gains into the story itself. For groups interested in the role-play aspect, this can be really fun.

For example, say a player has a 2nd level rogue and plans to choose the Arcane Trickster archetype when ready to level up to 3rd level. If this player is a planner (maps out likely character development ahead of time), they could give the DM a head’s up and role-play going to bookstores or a mage college to pick up a used wizard notebook. Now they’ve been studying this and when they cast their first spell, it’s one they learned from this book. For non-planners (deciding at level up), it could be they find a wizard’s spell book while searching through some chests in a dungeon. Maybe this book is partly ruined so any complex/higher level spells are lost, making the book uninteresting to the party’s wizard. As such, the arcane trickster now has a book they can start practicing with.

Either way, the DM and players will need to work together on planning or “learning” by determining which new talents can be role-played or discovered in game given the current setting. If you’re in the middle of an epic battle across multiple sessions, you wouldn’t want to wait to role-play learning your new deflect missiles (monk) from a mentor or NPC but perhaps in the heat of battle they discover they can sense ranged attacks and all their training before brings a new clarity that allows them to catch an arrow.

One final thought on role-playing level up components: while the DM can set up great scenarios or logical progressions in story, the interaction between players can really add to the new discoveries. Maybe that monk is surprised by actually catching their first arrow and the other PCs are either chalking it up to one-time luck or wildly impressed. Or the warlock challenges the bard to a talent show and stuns the group by summoning a new sword (pact of the blade). These not only allow players to show off their new skills, but also make the level up process feel more authentic for role-play style parties.

Resources: Player’s Handbook 5e

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I had a player (a Ranger) who wanted to find her animal companion at 3rd level. I set up a special session whereby she would rescue a panther from orc trappers, but did so while responding to a request from a local farmer to discover why his cattle were disappearing. \$\endgroup\$ – jbruni Apr 19 at 7:08
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It all comes down to DM preference and what works best for you. There's advantages and disadvantages to any method, so here are the two that I see most commonly used, and the reason why I choose the one I do.

  1. The most common approach is to apply the level-up during a long rest. This has the advantage of letting it take place between sessions, so that valuable play-time isn't wasted on a lot of book work. The disadvantage, of course, is that sometimes players will hit the XP cap, or the milestone, at a point where taking a long rest isn't a very viable option. This delays the level-up and the associated perks, and that can be very irritating to a player who's already prepared themselves beforehand.
  2. The second option is the one I favor as a DM; video game RPG logic, aka 'ding'. For the purposes of speeding up gameplay and being far too generous to my players, I automatically apply the full effects of at long rest, including the level-up, at the moment when it happens, or at the soonest possible convenient point. This works very well for me, as I almost exclusively run on milestones rather than XP, so I generally have a very good idea exactly when my players will progress. I've found that this method also helps me a great deal, since I'm effectively 'controlling' the party level and this makes it much easier to plan and tune encounters.

At the end of the day, there's no hard and fast rule on this subject. As the DM, you have the right and privilege to do as you please. I hope you find my advice useful.

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