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Level Up Advanced 5e Review

Switching To Level Up: Advanced 5e from D&D 5e

Table of Contents:

Like 5e D&D, But Advanced

Wizards of the Coast has been rolling some fumbles lately when it comes to 5th edition which has a lot of playgroups looking to jump ship. But what if you like 5e or your group just doesn’t want to learn a new system? Level Up: Advanced 5e takes the framework of 5e and builds on it, cleaning up some of its early mistakes and adding new systems without disrupting many of the base rules you’ve grown accustomed to. We’re going to go through all the biggest changes you’ll feel switching systems. Get your supplies together and grab your expertise dice as we go through everything you need to know.

Level Up Advanced 5e Review

Why Advanced 5e?

5e has always been an excellent system for onboarding new players to tabletop role playing games, but at the end of the day the system chops a ton of mechanical depth in favor of simplicity. Advanced 5e takes that easy-to-understand framework that your playgroup already knows and adds new depth and possibilities for both the player characters, the monsters, and ways to explore the world. Martial classes gain access to a wide range of maneuvers, ending the days where the optimal play is just mashing the attack action over and over again. Spellcasters can find rare versions of spells that can enhance or alter their existing arcane arsenal. And rather than simply hitting fast-forward during travel, advanced 5e has a built-in exploration system that makes the world more than just a series of combat encounters.

But the real big advantage here is compatibility. You don’t have to toss out all that 5e content you’ve already bought as everything is backwards compatible. Advanced 5e classes can work with original 5e archetypes and vice versa, old 5e monsters can be dropped right in with just a tweak, and whole adventure paths are all still perfectly playable with the new rules.

You can also freely mix and match. Everything is modular so you can cherry pick your favorite new features and mechanics from Advanced 5e and plug them into your existing original 5e games. 

A Bit of Bias

Full disclosure, I was one of the designers on Level Up: Advanced 5e and I’m currently on the writing team for EN Publishing. I’ll try to keep my article here with as little self-congratulation as possible but if it feels a bit too glowing of a review you’ll know why. I still highly recommend the system but feel free to take my opinion on it with a grain of salt.

What Books do I Need?

Advanced 5e has several expansions and supplements out and oncoming, but it originally released with 3 core books:

  • Adventurer’s Guide
  • Trials and Treasures
  • Monstrous Menagerie

Strictly all you’ll need is the Adventurer’s Guide which contains all the core rules and character creation options you’ll need to get a game going. 

Trials and Treasures contains Advanced 5e’s exploration rules, challenges, and a huge collection of magic items and magic item crafting rules. You can make do without it but I’d highly recommend it.

Finally, one of the best changes that comes with advanced 5e is how it handles monsters, and I can’t recommend getting the Monstrous Menagerie enough even if you’re just looking to improve your old 5e games. 

Can I Get the Rules Online?

Advanced 5e has all its rules and character creation options freely available online with their new tools site. It’s in open beta so they’re still working some kinks out, but you can easily look up any rules online for free.

What Dice do I need?

Just like old 5e, Advanced 5e makes use of a polyhedral set you likely already have which should include a d20, d12, 2 d10s, d8, d6, and d4. If you’ve been playing old 5e you should already have everything you need.

Switching to Advanced 5e as a DM

Let’s go through some of the biggest changes you’ll feel as a DM switching from old 5e D&D to Advanced 5e.

Monsters are Full Encounters

On cracking open the Monstrous Menagerie you’ll find that each creature has a lot more than just a stat block and some lore. The design philosophy was that each monster should include everything the DM will need to craft an encounter with that creature. This means you’ll find tables of signs, which are things in the area that might warn or foreshadow the monster’s presence. You’ll also find encounter sets spread across different CRs along with treasure you can loot after defeating them. And you’ll also get legends and lore tables which contain snippets of information your players might learn about the creature from skill checks like history or arcana and what DCs they’ll need to beat to get such information.

Put all this together and rather than just plopping down a monster you can get a full encounter experience just from the book alone. The lead-up, lore, example encounters, and example loot all combine to make each monster listing a full encounter just using the book alone.

Finally, the monsters themselves have a bit more depth on average than you’ll be used to in original 5e. Each monster has a combat section briefly outlining the monster’s general tactics in combat, and many of them have deeper abilities including stages that progress as the monster takes damage.   

Exploration and Supply

Advanced 5e pays special attention to the exploration pillar of gameplay. Trials and Treasures contains tons of biomes subdivided by tiers so that no matter where your players are heading, you’ll have a ton of encounters and tables ready to go for it. But exploration doesn’t just have to be a series of encounters. Advanced 5e has built in traveling mechanics that allow players to perform a more active role in their transition from A to B. Players can busk, cook, entertain, and all sorts of other traveling activities that gain the party bonuses and buffs while they go.

And as an optional rule, Advanced 5e introduces the concept of “supply” which is an abstracted unit to measure the amount of food and water you’d need to survive for a day, rather than counting every stick of jerky. For adventures where surviving the wilderness is a core theme, pop in the supply rules and let your players hunt, forage, and otherwise find ways to survive off the land.

Destinies and Inspiration

Advanced 5e expands on the often-forgotten inspiration mechanic and integrates it into the player’s character creation with a new building block called “destinies”. Each destiny is meant to represent why a character became an adventurer, their motivations and the future they’re working towards. 

Mechanically inspiration still works much the same way. It's a reward the DM is meant to give players for creative or quality roleplaying, you can only ever have inspiration or not (you can’t stockpile it up) and players can spend their inspiration to make a reroll on anything. The destinies build on this with special alternative uses for their inspiration, and special sources of inspiration. For you as a DM this means you’re highly encouraged to hand out inspiration regularly and pay attention to each player’s destiny for roleplay situations that should gain those players inspiration.  

Gold Costs Included

One of my pet peeves when it comes to original 5e is the ambiguous pricing for magic items that forces me to come up with them on the spot. Advanced 5e not only has fully priced out magic items and potions along with the traditional rarity scale, but it also includes full crafting rules and mechanics that makes magic item creation into something actually in the range of possibility instead of a vestigial non-mechanic. Players won’t be able to break the game with mass item production, but if they want to take some time and effort to make a wand or two Advanced 5e doesn’t punish them for it.

Switching to Advanced 5e as a Player

Let’s go through the biggest changes you’ll feel as a player swapping over from old 5e D&D to Advanced 5e.

New Character Creation Building Blocks

Advanced 5e gives you a lot more room to play with when building your character with “origins”.

Your character’s origin is divided into Heritage, Culture, Background, and Destiny. Collectively, these 4 options replace the race and background of an old 5e character.

Heritage describes a character’s physical nature and what they biologically are. It’s close to what a “race” is in old 5e, but it has been disentangled from culture and history. There’s no reason dwarves in your world have to have all that Tolkienesque lore attached to them, and just because you were born a dwarf doesn’t mean you were raised in a dwarven mine.

Heritage is also subdivided into heritage and heritage gift. In a lot of ways, you can look at the heritage gift like the old 5e subraces, but because they’re fully modular between races you can mix and match. This lets you create all sorts of mixed heritages. Want to be a half-elf half-orc? Just take the heritage of one with a heritage gift of the other and bam you’ve got an elforc. 

Culture is where all that history and lore went and is meant to describe how your character was raised. Was your halfling raised wild in a goblin raiding party? Did your rogue grow up on the farm or in shackles? 

Background has been changed dramatically and describes a character’s pre-adventuring life and early profession. It’s important to note that the starting ability score increases got taken out of race and put into backgrounds instead (which should make a lot of sense) which makes them much more important selections.

Destiny is the new kid on the block, and it describes what got a character to go adventuring in the first place and what they hope to achieve. Destinies work with the improved inspiration mechanic and push you to do more roleplaying for mechanical rewards. They also give you some powerful out of combat ways to spend your inspiration, which can be incredibly powerful when used right.

Expertise Dice

Mechanical depth often involves a lot of math and stacking up bonuses, which is where expertise dice come in. A ton of features will give you an “expertise die” on things like checks, attacks, or saves. When you have an expertise die on something, you roll a d4 and add that to the result. Now, if you ever get multiple expertise dice on something, you instead “improve” the expertise die a step (d4, d6, d8, Etc.). So if you gained 2 expertise dice on say Arcana checks, you’d roll a d6 and add that to your result, if you had 3 expertise dice you’d roll a d8 and add that instead.

Skill Specialties

Specialties let your character be especially good at certain aspects of skills. Let’s say your gnome fighter is especially good at knot-tying. You’d mark on your sheet a specialty in knot tying next to the survival skill that knot-tying would normally fall into. Now whenever you roll a survival check and the knot-tying specialty applies, you’d get to add an expertise die to the check. So you’d add it for making a survival check to tie a rope off as you scale a cliff, but not when using Survival to track a bounty.

There are examples of these specialties for every skill but you’re encouraged to be creative and come up with your own. Nobody can stop you from choosing underwater basket weaving as a specialty, but it might not come up often.

One thing a lot of players miss is starting specialties. Every character starts at level 1 with 2 specialties of their choice, plus a number of specialties equal to their Intelligence modifier. A lot of class features and options will also grant you specific specialties or let you pick more.

Combat Maneuvers

One of the goals of Advanced 5e was to give martial classes more options and let them have deeper strategy choices beyond “hit the thing until it dies”.

All creatures and characters now have a thing called a “combat maneuver DC”, which is calculated in practically the same way as a spell save DC. Your combat maneuver DC is 8 + your proficiency, + either your Strength modifier or Dexterity modifier whichever is higher.

With this, instead of doing complicated grappling checks or contested checks, you instead simply declare what you’re trying to do (shove a guy, grapple them, Etc.) and your target makes a Strength or Dexterity saving throw against your combat maneuver DC. If they fail you successfully perform your maneuver, if they succeed, they stop you from performing your maneuver.

The basic stuff like grappling and tripping all fall under “basic maneuvers” that everybody is able to perform. Martial classes get a lot more than the basics as they gain access to combat traditions and exertion points.

When you learn a combat tradition, you gain access to a bunch of extra maneuvers that are fueled by a resource called exertion points. Most martial classes get a number of exertion points equal to twice their proficiency bonus, and these points recharge on a short rest. 

What this means is that your fighter has a whole plethora of combat options to fit any situation, no battle master archetype required! 

3 Pillars

TTRPGs (or at least most of them) have three general pillars of gameplay, combat, roleplay, and exploration. For the most part, the mechanics of old 5e are designed to work with that first pillar quite a lot, tangentially interact with the roleplay pillar, and practically ignore the exploration pillar.

In Advanced 5e, you’ll find that your class features and base mechanics are spread more evenly across all 3 pillars, with every class gaining abilities that specifically affect not only how you fight, but also how you roleplay and explore.

Spell Tags

One thing you might notice when rolling up a new spellcaster in Advanced 5e is that each spell has a list of tags in addition to the traditional magical schools. These do nothing on their own, but class features and abilities can interact with them. This lets things like your pyromancer wizard gain bonuses to all “fire” spells, rather than having to list them all out and potentially cut off fire-themed spells created in the future.

Base Signing

While picking out languages, you might notice that each language lists “speak, read, write, and sign”. As both a nod to the hearing impaired and to finally solve the “we’re signing in combat not talking” exploit, signing a language has been made a core part of learning a language. 


New Skills

A bit of a minor change, but Advanced 5e adds in two new skills, Culture and Engineering. It was always awkward to make a history check to know which bit of cutlery was the salad fork, and Culture wraps together all the aptitude for social understanding, grace, and knowledge. Engineering is the check for any convoluted plan involving ropes, pulleys and pitons you might come up with in the dungeon, along with understanding structures and vehicles.

Synergy Feats

Advanced 5e doesn’t go nuts with feat trees like pathfinder, but it does have several specific sets of advancing feats called “synergy feats”. Each starting synergy feat requires multiple levels from two different classes, and the latter two require the previous feat. These function a lot like prestige classes, taking core features from both classes and combining them into a new combined class identity. If you’re willing to build for them, take a shot at some of these like the bard and paladin-based proclaimer, or the berserker and druid-based untamed.

What to Expect from your Advanced 5e Games

Advanced 5e games play out a lot like the 5e games you’re used to, just with a lot of the clunkier rules cleaned up and much more depth to combat. Your players will be tossing enemies back and forth and dynamically using the battlefield rather than just lining up and making attacks until one side falls over. Advanced 5e games are more rounded, giving you mechanical and meaningful interactions across every aspect of your game, not just combat. I highly recommend Advanced 5e for any playgroup looking to ditch WotC, or that just want to get more out of their games without leaving behind all their experience using 5e.

Level Up: Advanced 5e FAQ

Does Advance 5e have Online Tools?

Yup! Advanced 5e has a full tools website containing all the base rules along with all the character creation options in an easy to access and completely free website. Just google “Advanced 5e Tools” and you should find it. It also includes digital character sheets, and downloadable character sheet files. They also have a monster builder tool up and are currently developing their interactive character builder.

Can I Use Old 5e Archetypes?

Yes, advanced 5e is completely backwards compatible with your old 5e content. You can use an old 5e archetype with an advanced 5e class and vice versa. There are some edge cases where due to how the classes were redesigned some of the old 5e options are tactically suboptimal now, but there’s nothing stopping you from using your favorite existing class or archetype.

Can I Use Old 5e Races or Backgrounds?

The short answer is yes, but it’s a bit more complicated since the origins system made major changes. Advanced 5e moves the ability score increases to the background, and splits what was the “race” into heritage, heritage gift, and culture. If you want to use an old 5e race or background, you need to use both an old 5e race and background together, which you take in place of the advanced 5e heritage, heritage gift, culture, and background.

Can I Use Old 5e Adventures?

Yes you can, and they’re incredibly easy to adapt. Most 5e adventures will play perfectly while practically unaltered. For monsters in such encounters, you can plug in the advanced 5e versions where applicable. When the monsters are too unique, simply calculate a quick combat maneuver DC for them in situations where they’d need to grab, shove, grapple, or other similar martial techniques.  

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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