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As a rogue, I've gained enough XP to level up to level 3. However, I'm not yet ready to pick what archetype would fit best for me.

Despite having gained enough XP, can I wait until later to level up my character?

I'm looking for rules to back me up, especially if it explicitly states that I don't need to level up immediately upon acquiring the XP threshold.

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Rules-as-written, you level up right away.

The PHB states:

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.

Note that it says "a character [...] advances in capability", not "a character can advance in capability". Contrasted with many other features that are optional, this means (RAW) that you can't delay your level-up.

Furthermore, Xanathar's Guide to Everything has a variant rule for shared campaigns, so-called checkpoint leveling (see XGtE p. 173). It's basically another alternative to XP, much like milestone leveling, so I won't go into details; its description says the following, however (emphasis mine):

At the end of a play session, characters must level up if they have reached enough checkpoints to do so.

This strongly suggests that leveling up as soon as you can is not only RAW, but also RAI (rules as intended).

I haven't found anything else targeting your issue in either the PHB, DMG or XGtE.


"Rules-as-fun", you probably won't run into any balancing issues as long as you talk with your DM and don't decide to level up mid-session.

Since the rest of your party probably doesn't want to wait, you'll be one level behind them. That's not a problem, it's quite common if the DM awards XP individually to everyone. However, you have to make sure to ask your DM if delaying your level-up is ok: it will affect their encounter balancing, especially if your DM normally makes sure that everyone levels up at the same time, for example by using milestone leveling.
For the same reason, mid-session-level-ups are also a no-go.

The DM may also have something planned that strongly requires you to level up. For instance, if you're level 4 and the big boss battle is coming up, you shouldn't be delaying your level-up, as level 4 to 5 is a pretty significant jump in power.
Therefore, if your DM says "no, you can't delay your level up", you should accept it without objecting—they likely have their reasons, not all of which they may be able to reveal to you.

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This is a bit of an XY Problem.

The title of the question is 'can I defer leveling up?' but the actual problem is expressed in the second sentence:

I'm not yet ready to pick what archetype would fit best for me.

Talk to your DM about your actual problem - you don't want to choose an archetype yet. Tell them that you are ready to assume all of the generic mechanical advantages that come with level 3 (hp, class features such as rages, ki points, or in your case, another sneak attack die) as well as the effects for them (treating you as level 3 for calculating encounter CR, etc.). Ask them if you can hold off on selecting your archetype and assuming the specific benefits that come with that. If not, ask them whether you can 'try out' an archetype for a while before making your final decision, and still have the option to switch to another one later.

Update: The release of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything means that there are now (optional) rules for changing your subclass. You are permitted to do this "when you would normally gain a new subclass feature". This is obviously not a good option for you, even if permitted, since rogues gain subclass features at 3rd and 9th levels. Thus if you were forced to make a subclass declaration at 3rd and were not satisfied with the result, you would need to wait until 9th to change your subclass according to this rule.

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You can defer leveling up if a DM uses a DMG variant rule.

As PixelMaster's answer already addressed, under the default rules characters level up once they have enough XP. Under a checkpoint leveling system, they automatically level up after reaching enough checkpoints. However, there is a variant rule from the Dungeon Master's Guide that describes additional requirements to level up.

Under the list of additional downtime activity options that the DM can choose to make available to players, the "Training to Gain Levels" section says (DMG, p. 131):

As a variant rule, you can require characters to spend downtime training or studying before they gain the benefits of a new level. If you choose this option, once a character has earned enough experience points to attain a new level, he or she must train for a number of days before gaining any class features associated with the new level.

Under this variant rule, you could choose to not undertake the training right when you gain enough XP to level up. By doing this, you could defer leveling up for as long as you'd like. However, this would require the whole table to operate under this ruling. If you're playing in an already-established campaign, there's no way to choose not to level up. My advice to you would be to talk to your DM about putting the choice off until later - maybe see if they're alright if you test out the subclass you most like in the next session, and then change your mind if you don't like it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This says "before gaining any class features associated with the new level.", which might provide interesting precedent for leveling and gaining generic features but not yet picking an archetype. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2020 at 18:54
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As a compromise between the two answers provided so far (which have already provided the rule-based answer you seek…keeping in mind that of course, at the end of the day what matters is what you and your fellow gaming friends decide, especially the DM), consider making the non-optional changes to your character now, and defer the archetype selection until later. I.e. this doesn't have to be either/or.

It still makes sense to run this by your DM, because I agree that they might have some good reason not to allow it. But that would be very unusual, especially at level 3.

From an in-character point of view, this is easily justified by the fact that basic abilities tend to be acquired over time through general experience, while the selection of archetype is a conscious choice made "at the crossroads", i.e. at the point in your character's development where it makes sense to start specializing. You can't help but get better at fighting (like gaining another d6 on sneak attack) but other character changes might require more active thought (such as choosing an archetype or, at later levels, figuring out what ability score will improve through focused training).

By doing it this way, you defer the main thing that you want to have more time to consider, but your character will have some of the advancement benefit needed to keep your party strong enough to meet the challenges ahead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree about the general strategy here and appreciate the in-game contextualization of abilities as developed vs. chosen. Unfortunately, not all of the level three archetypes are 'crossroads' type conscious decisions. The Barbarian Paths, for example, add a kind of post hoc cultural description to your backstory - 'actually, I was raised with these beliefs all along'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 27, 2020 at 0:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt: "actually, I was raised with these beliefs all along" -- for a person for whom that is an important consideration, they already would have figured out when the character was first written what archetype was going to be selected. That clearly is not the situation here. Your concern is inherently mutually exclusive with the question, thus not relevant in this context. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2020 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt: Counterargument: that problem also occurs with normal level ups :D \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2020 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MooingDuck Peter Duniho's answer posits that archetype choice is a special case at third level because it is a 'crossroads' conscious decision point, rather than the accumulation of small events and decisions over previous time. I was pointing out that is true for some, but not all, archetypes. I am saying that the 'decision point' paradigm cannot be universally applied at third level. That it ALSO cannot be universally applied at other levels is true, but is not a counterargument. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 28, 2020 at 19:16
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As a DM I have allowed players who are not sure which archetype they want to change there mind until level 6. It might be worth talking to your DM to see if this is acceptable. I have a few caveats I don’t necessarily let them pick and choose each session but instead at appropriate moments in the adventure sometimes providing specific situations that allow them to experience a particular archetypes strengths and weaknesses helping them make a decision.

It might be worth Discussing a similar option with you DM as a solution.

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    \$\begingroup\$ for what it's worth, this is even possible for all character aspects, not just archetype, in Adventurer's League (D&D 5e organized play, with generally much stricter rules than "casual" 5e), albeit only before playing an adventure at level 5. See AL player guide, page 4: "You can rebuild your character prior to playing their first adventure as a 5th-level character—changing any of your character’s statistics but their name and season. Non-mechanical aspects of your character [...] can be changed between sessions regardless of level." \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26, 2020 at 23:41

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