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I'm running a campaign with my friends. We started Keep on the Shadowfell a year ago, and finished it at our latest session. (We don't play often, one of them is a doctor, so it's hard to schedule sessions. :-) )

I now want to continue playing with the Princes of the Apocalypse published adventure, starting at level 3/4. I think the KotS setup takes place in or near the King's Forest, in Cormyr. The PotA setup takes place on the Sword Coast, putting it more than 1500 miles away by road.

How do I get the characters from Winterhaven to Red Larch and into the adventure? Since we don't play often, I want it to happen within a single session. How do I deal with them being so far away, and not wanting to spend a long time getting them there? How do I hook them into the factions when I get them there?


My current idea is the following:

  • They have their headquarters in Winterhaven.
  • The Cult of the Howling Hatred is probably the first cult they're going to encounter, so
  • The Prophet of the Cult invoked a powerful tornado to uproot the PC's HQ from Winterhaven and land it in or near Red Larch
  • The PC's will be surprised (oh, really ?) and will learn that Red Larch is experiencing lots of weird weather changes, so the local NPC's won't be that surprised (although it's the first time they see survivors in a meteor-house)
  • The PC's will probably start to investigate these weather changes, and will also hear about the missing delegation from Mirabar
  • The wind cultists will fake good intentions when the PC's will meet them, and pretend they called the PC's for help (which is kinda true, the wind cultists want the PC's to weaken the other cults)

(I figure that the reason why the Cult of the Howling Hatred called the PCs is because they somehow heard about them closing the Gate to the Shadowfell in the Keep, and they think they should have a good experience in dismantling cults — read as: the 3 other primal cults.)

So far, so good, I think I should be able to handle that. That still leaves me with the problem of how to connect the NPC's to the five factions of PotA. Those factions seem important to me for this adventure because they give the PCs reasons to find and help the Mirabar delegation, and I can't just say "Ok, you just landed in a town far far away, now you must choose a faction". I need them to stay a while in town, meeting people, but I'd like that to occur at our first session, because like I said previously, we can't play very often, and I really want them to get involved in the adventure as soon as possible, investigating, killing monsters and stopping evil.

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Do what authors do when dealing with this kind of issue. Just have some quick exposition and move on.

If I have a party that is in one village and they need to get to another village a long way away but I don't want to have anything important happen along the way, then I just describe the journey and have them arrive at their destination. This doesn't mean that nothing happened along the way. It means that nothing important to the story happened along the way. The thing to remember here is that the 1500 miles is only important if you and your group want it to be important.

To make it seem a bit more important without having to actually play through a crap ton of random encounters, give the group a few XP and then ask each player to briefly describe one encounter they had along the way. Perhaps pushing a little for specific people they met or places they stopped. This puts some faces and personalities along the route so that if they ever travel that way again and you need some repeat characters, you'll have some.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One writer's technique is to have a "touchstone" before and after the time gap. "It's raining when you set off on your journey, leaving your friends and home behind... two weeks pass. As you approach your destination, the torrential rain forces you to huddle inside your cloaks." It's not necessary, of course, but can help maintain continuity. \$\endgroup\$ – kyoryu Jun 8 '15 at 19:57
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Allow me to challenge the unspoken assumption in your question (noting that I like your ideas):

If you had created the next adventure for your players (instead of buying it), would you have placed it 1500 miles away?

Of course you wouldn't; you would place it "over the hill" or "two blocks down". The point is that you are not a slave to the writer's vision - put the damn thing wherever best suits your campaign!

For the time poor among us (i.e. all of us) the best use for published modules is as an idea mine - extract the gold and leave the dross.

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You seem to already have a great solution for how to transport the PCs from where they are to where they need to be. The tornado idea does a good job of both covering the necessary distance and giving them an immediate reason to be interested in this new story. It also has a cool Wizard of Oz feel :)

Your real problem is tying them into the other factions, but this doesn't need to be difficult. There's plenty of precedent for facing this kind of challenge.

As Long As We're Talking about The Wizard of Oz ...

Within minutes of landing in Oz, Dorothy encounters the Wicked Witch of the West, The Good Witch of the South, and the entire Lollipop Guild. That's three factions introduced right off the bat (four, if landing on top of the Wicked Witch of the East counts as meeting her), and she's heard about another - the Emerald City. Everybody wants something from Dorothy, or else Dorothy needs something from them. In fact, one of the first questions Dorothy has to answer is

"Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?"

Boom, she has to choose a faction immediately.

Make the Factions Come to the Party

The party has just crash-landed in a flying house summoned by a tornado, and lived. Clearly they are worth talking to. As if that wasn't enough, a group of cultists has summoned them based on their reputation alone to help them deal with other groups of cultists. Anybody who's anybody in this new location is going to know that the party has arrived, and if the wind cultists think they can help, other factions will probably think so as well.

So here's what you do: send representatives from most or all of the factions to meet the party either on arrival, or very shortly after. For maximum drama, have a few representatives arrive at once, to highlight the relationships between the factions. Make it clear what each faction wants from the PCs, and what it can provide. More importantly, tie a memorable NPC to each faction. Usually, players will just ally with whichever faction has the coolest NPC attached to it.

An Example From A Campaign I'm Currently Playing

I'm currently playing a barbarian in a 5e homebrew campaign. We're camped outside a human city whose inhabitants have mysteriously vanished, and a number of different factions want to take it over. Among them are the Forest King's elves, the Dragonborn, The Duergar, and some mindflayers. It's a lot to keep track of.

Luckily, my character is the last of a royal bloodline, and also the last remaining human. He's also an idiot, and so has declared himself king of all humans, claimed divine right to the abandoned city, and set up a court outside the city walls. Most GMs would have turned this into a running joke, but our GM chose to take my kingship seriously, and turn my court into the party's home base. Each of the major factions has sent one or more envoys to the court, each wanting something different from the human king. This has given the whole party an excuse to meet and interact with representatives of every faction, and as a result we have decided that we are all about the Dragonborn and against the Forest King ("F*** the Forest King" has become our collective battlecry.)

The Short Version

Don't make them choose between factions. Make them choose between people. Design a short, sweet social encounter to let them decide who they like, and build on what they tell you in that scene.

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If you're willing to do a bit of work, you could just graft Winterhaven into the place of Red Larch in Princes of the Apocalypse and have the elemental cults menace the players in their established home, which they'll be well-motivated to defend. The exact shape of the map isn't really crucial to the adventure, just that the various cult sites are somewhere nearby.

Variant on that idea, suitable to the Points of Light setting: Red Larch is overrun before the adventure starts, and the NPCs from PotA arrive in Winterhaven (with all their plot hooks) as refugees needing resettlement. The Mirabar delegation is important because they're supposed to be organizing where to resettle the new people and how to defend them.

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Fade to black

Have them start in one location, describe the need for them to move from one place to another, explain what happens during their journey, fade to black, then roleplay their arrival at the new location.

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Make an adventure of it by using the Maguffin Hunt trope.

This boils down to giving the PCs a reason to chase something or someone (the "maguffin") to the location of their first encounter with the cults from the module that you bought. For example:

  • A NPC hires the group to return their wayward offspring, who has gone to join some odd religious group.
  • One or more of the PCs is troubled by prophetic dreams; something in the dreams points towards the place you need them to visit.
  • Rumours of a powerful or valuable artefact (say, a statue of a bird in solid gold ;) ) reach the party. Guess who has - or only seems to have - the object?
  • Someone who thinks that the party can help them with the cult requests their help. Said person might not be alive by the time that the PCs get there.
  • Someone who wants the party to help against the cults, and has fewer scruples, lures them into the story by stealing one of their favourite magical items, or kidnapping one of their nearest and dearest. This could be as bait, or as ransom.

To bring the five factions into the story, have them searching for the maguffin or encountered on the way.

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The DM of the campaign I'm in now uses the "describe the journey" approach, except he also wrote out this great table for stuff that can happen along the way. He roles once for every X miles we have to travel (or however many he feels like) and...things happen. Think Oregon Trail with orcs. Sometimes a party member will show up at the destination hungover, or with a fancy new hat.

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Love the ideas, let me challenge another assumption: that the DM has to decide.

Instead, you can tap another role-playing tool.

Challenge your players to explain it.

Leverage the strength of DnD as a collaborative storytelling experiencing. The advantage of crowdsourcing is the diversity of ideas. The benefit of involving the players is it invests them more deeply in the story.

"You have each traveled 1,500 miles to arrive here. How each of you arrived so quickly is a story itself. We'll take a minute to brainstorm and then everyone explain how they arrived whether alone or with one other character."

The possible side benefit is you get more material ideas that can be used in later adventures. A secondary double-advantage is that this can give players a sense of "ownership" of the world - and often people care for things they own a bit more than things owned by others. Thus you may find your players more connected to your game world.

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I would take a NPC wizard or cleric capable of transportation or teleportation. The reason is the comfortable full control about when, and how far, the NPC is available and what he or she is capable of. Because players will probably go opportunist.

That way you can use it to help without spoiling the challenges of the adventure, like the mentioned weird weather.

If you don't want a NPC who accompanies the group make it a wizard, druid, or priest who has to stay at a kind of gate (wiz-tower, sacred planar grove, monastery or shrine) to serve the purpose.

Additionally you could use the option of the NPC starting to be fascinated by the same of the 5 factions which the players intend to join. That would cause a sense of meeting him or her, and trusting him or her a little bit.

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