A well constructed railroad would have been okay, but this adventure requires a lot of pruning and reworking to feel right - at least for my group.
After getting fed up, I decided to replace all of the faction contacts with new NPCs. The players felt that Leosin was a useless fool and Ontharr was a pointless poser. And that's pretty accurate. So I brought in their supervisors and made them capable, proactive kind of people who set traps for choice cultists in Baldur's Gate and used the PCs to help extract information. That sat a lot better with the players. No one likes to work for a moron.
Sections 4 and 5 involve a two-month overland caravan guarding gig while spying on the Cult's treasure caravan travelling from Baldur's Gate to Waterdeep and beyond. I decided to give the player's some agency and have the Cult split the treasure into multiple shipments travelling in different directs and methods. So they got to choose their own adventure.
The players chose the sea option. The cult joined a merchant flotilla and the players followed behind. Sure, it's just a reskin of the caravan thing, but where else can you get:
- Auction house deals with Shadovar agents and magical rugs,
- A socially inept, magically disguised, always laughing Marid sultan/merchant shipping vacuum packed weaponized sand with his ten fish-wives back to the elemental plane of water,
- Trails of aboleth slime in the ocean, ready to be scooped up by PCs who don't know what will happen if they touch it,
- Sahuagin boarding parties rising up from the deep,
- A trip to Mintarn - being just a reskin of FREEPORT,
- A pink haired gnome theif girl slash whore-house tour guide,
- JEFF'S CAROUSING TABLES BEING USED IN A WICKED PIRATE CITY,
- Having to post bail and pay back various powerful loan-sharks,
- A magical wharf that makes ships invisible for a day,
- A cambion pirate named Captain Dan(te) and his first mate and navigator who happen to be cheerleader/barbie doll sucubbi,
- A GLABRZU bosun and a cloud of imps that live up in a ship's rigging,
- Wiping out the fiendish command crew of a pirate vessel with aboleth slime and a sorcerer-induced randomly generated pack of flumphs.
- Attacking a Mintarn ship-of-the-line from an invisible corvair captained by a renegade succubus out for revenge.
It's not EXACTLY a reskin. Okay, I pretty much threw everything in Horde out, including the whole Zentarim/Cultists theft/murder/revenge storyline. But eventually they'll track down the Cultists again - somewhere in the Mere of Dead Men and be ready for Section 6. :)