How to increase PC level between pieces of story in a plot-relavent way?


I'm a new GM, running a module that's about to be finished. I've found another I want to run, and it works pretty well plot-wise with only a few tweaks. The issue is that the next module starts at level 4, and the PCs will be about halfway between 2 and 3 at the end of this module.
How can I get them to level 4 without it feeling like a string of random encounters with no plot relevance? They have to get to the next town over, so there's a few days of travel involved, but I don't want to spend forever just beating up monsters in the forest.

The basics:
They're about to finish a pretty self-contained dungeon-crawl type quest. Clues in the dungeon point them towards the capital city if they want to chase down some thieves and find treasure (The thieves have a few months head start already, but they're missing some key information). Also, the Forest Marshall wants to hire them to help retake a fort just outside the capital city. The fort will hold yet more clues to the location of treasure and the goals of the thieves. I want the PCs to be at level 4 before trying to take the fort.

They have to make the journey from Kassen to Tamran on foot or by boat, but I don't relish the thought of getting them to level 4 by just beating up monsters on the road.

How do you come up with story tie-ins for side quests? How do you manage long journeys?
Is there anything you've done that worked really well?


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Maybe on the road at night their camp is invaded by bandits who steal their supplies. Tracking them down leads to a nearby hideout where it's discovered that the bandit leader is somehow connected with the thieves that the party is tracking down. For some ideas, if the thieves are part of a large organization, perhaps this bandit group is paying them a "tax" to be allowed to operate unopposed; if they're just a handful of people then perhaps they were hired by the thieves to obtain something from a specific group of travelers that are believed to be in the area (possibly minor nobles or whatnot) and the bandits mistook the party for that group.

If the bandit operation is sufficiently large, it could feasibly have enough XP to get a level. Likely won't be enough to get the party all the way to 4 but should at least help; adding in a story award for finding out the connection between the bandits and thieves can be worth a bit as well.

Sorta like Skizzerz said... they meet random monsters on the way, but it results in a dungeon crawl/quest path.

You may have to actually plan a game without using a module.

Why can't they level up at the end of the dungeon/on the way to the city? Random encounters aren't bad, they do add to the game and it probably won't feel like a string of plotless events.

1.) play the module even though they are "underleveled", my experience with players and Challenge Ratings have tought me that the players will find a way.
(this assumes your players are what I consider typical Pathfinder-players: slightly competetive, have a love for tweaking their 'builds' for maximum/better output, and inventive enough to outsmart or outmanouver a lot of the standard modules.)

2.) just level them up, don't overthink it, don't try to make it "fair" or make it fit the rules - you make the rules, if you want them to be lvl 3 or 4 when the next adventure starts you .... make it so (Picard voice).

*poff, you're now lvl 4*
"1 year later, you meet up at a tavern to catch up when .." *plothook from module snags them by the cheeks*

fishhooking is not allowed, even in MMA matches

Seeing as boat travel is viable, you can always turn it into a shipwreck. They need to find a way off some island and in the progress of doing so they encounter enemies and such just to survive on some uninhabited island. Its possible for you to let them live on that island for a short amount of time. Enough time for them to level up some more under the pretence of survival. It gives a different feel from simply monster hunting and questing. Its a fight to survive in the wilderness.

Its also a great opportunity to use the survival skill more if they haven't used it all that much.

They could meet a Yoda-like character along the way who trains them. Perhaps he sets a string of tests to make sure they are worthy first.

Tell them straight up that they are not up to the challenge so they have to go find someone to train them up. Then send them to the local Srg. Hartman for a full session of insults and pushups. Then if they survive without bailing out of the campaign you can reward them with a full level up.
I actually did this once pretty much as I said and they loved it.

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