The DM let you know that you leveled up, but you’ve never really done this before. You’re not using an app or something to track your character that can level up for you, you’re using paper and pencils. You want to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Dungeons & Dragons is a big game and it can be daunting to figure out where you need to go and what you need to do to level up. Fifth edition has made this process much easier than its predecessors, though it can still be a lot for newcomers to role playing games. Let us help you through it.
Before we unveil a checklist of goodies, first look for your class in the Player’s Handbook to find the level up table. This will note many of both the common and unique benefits you get.
The Checklist, Part 1: Common Benefits
Some things are relevant for all characters to check when leveling up. They are:
- Hit Point Increase
- Proficiency Bonus
- Class Features
- Subclass Features
- Ability Score Improvement / Feats
Hit Point Increase!
Your hit points increase by your class’s Hit Die + your Constitution modifier. You can find what kind of hit dice your class uses just below its level up table in the Player’s Handbook. A Paladin, for example, uses d10s for their Hit Dice; such a character would roll a d10, add their Constitution bonus, and then add this result to their existing maximum number of hit points to set a brand new hit point maximum.
Every character, no matter what class, gets the same proficiency bonus based on total level. This is meant to ensure everyone scales up in power fairly. You’ll find the proficiency bonus column noted on every class table, but they are in fact all the same. When you level up, check to see if this value increases. If it does, it’s time to boost the bonus for all of your proficient skills as well as for attack rolls. If you’re a spellcaster, your spell save DC also gets a boost now too.
The level up table for your class will have a column of features. Some of these will be generic, abilities that are gained by every character in that class. For example, every kind of Paladin gets “Lay on Hands”, no matter which Sacred Oath they choose. Check the table to see if there is a feature listed, then look for its details later in the class description. There are two types of special features mixed in to this list, which we describe next.
One of the special types of features is subclass features. You choose your subclass somewhere in the first three levels of your class and it gives you unique associated features as you level up later. Subclasses are called different things per class (“Sacred Oath” for a Paladin, “Primal Path” for a Barbarian, “Druid Circle” for a Druid, etc) but they all work the same way. Your level up table will indicate when you get a subclass feature by using its generic term; a Paladin will see that they get a “Sacred Oath” feature multiple times in their features column, for example. Each time you see this, consult the section of the Player’s Handbook with your chosen subclass to find out what new benefit you get.
Ability score improvement?
The other special type of feature is an Ability Score Improvement. This also happens multiple times throughout the level up table. Each class always gains this feature at the same levels, and the first instance is at 4th level. When you see this, you have two options to choose from:
- Increase your base stats: Increase one stat by 2, or two stats by 1.
- Choose a feat.
Standard feats are found on page 165 of the Player’s Handbook. Beyond this though, other official supplements and home-brew materials provide an immense library of options, some even with particular restrictions. See if any appeal to you and pass them by the DM, especially if something customized. Feat selection can certainly be intimidating, so rest assured that choosing to increase stats instead is a great choice no matter what character you play.
The Checklist, Part 2: Unique Benefits
Some more things are relevant for certain kinds of characters to check. They are:
- Cantrip Strength
- Racial Bonuses
Not all classes get spells, and not all classes get the same kind of spells. This can be especially confusing, so check your level up table and the Spellcasting section of your class description for reference. The major points noted on your level up table are:
- Spells Known – Does this increase? If so, you can select a new spell! Your choice(s) are limited to your class’s spell list, the levels for which you have spell slots, and sometimes certain subclass features.
- Spell Slots – Do you gain additional slots? Normally when leveling up your magic you either gain more spells or more slots. Spell slots are like your “ammo” for magic; the more you have, the more spells you can cast. If you gain slots for a new level, then you have also just gained access to spells of that level.
- Cantrips Known – Does this increase? Cantrips are different than regular spells because you can cast them as much as you want; they do not need slots. Gaining a new choice of cantrip is rare but it does happen. Check your level up table to see if your new level grants you any!
Also for spellcasters, your cantrips that deal damage will increase in strength as you do. This is to make sure your magic powers keep up with the non-magical classes, and occurs at levels 5, 11, and 17. This strength increase is noted directly in the text of the spell itself (not in your level up table), so be sure to remember to check whether your cantrips gain any bonuses when you level.
Some races or subraces grant bonuses when you level up, such as dwarven toughness, drow magic, or a dragonborn’s breath. Take a quick look over your race’s abilities to make sure you aren’t missing anything.
In your level up table there may be something special we haven’t covered here, and it is most likely unique to your class. Be sure to check the table for improvements in things like:
- Barbarian Rage
- Monk Martial Arts/Ki Points/Unarmored Movement
- Rogue Sneak Attack
- Sorcery Points
- Warlock Invocations
Once you’ve reviewed the level up table and gone through our checklist, run your updates by your DM to ensure they agree with everything done and approve choices made. They might even have alternative suggestions that fit the story. Some characters can be quite complex, so having another person double-check your character is always helpful. Recommendations to spell choices, feats, and more can come from veteran players too. Exploring options for your character is a huge part of the game, and it can be really fun to see them emerge and change.