I'll let you know how it goes. What it really comes down to is that I believe my group is sticking with Pathfinder rather than going "rules-lite" for 2 main reasons:
1. They like the cool character options it gives them in terms of abilities, skills and feats, which helps them to play a character that is not "boring", and who is different than other characters they meet. In other words, not all 3rd level fighters are identical.
2. My reputation as a killer DM who railroaded them around.
The first reason I can deal with. It just gives me as DM a different set of variables to handle. As long as the number crunch doesn't get out of hand, I should be able to handle it.
The second reason is just something I have to work on. What I've been doing to prep for the new campaign is get together a lot of resources which lend themselves naturally to an old school feel game. I am trying to populate my sandbox base, which is the Freeport setting, with as many different elements as I can. The more bits and pieces I can put in the sandbox for them to play and interact with, the more freewheeling and flexible I can be. It's going to be a RP heavy campaign, and the characters will not leave Freeport much, if at all, so the adventures need to be brought to the city.
For setting specific stuff I am using:
Pirates Guide to Freeport.
Wilderlands of High Fantasy.
Hackmaster's Robilar's City of Brass
C&C's Castle Zagyg material plus WG13- Joe Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage
Green Ronin's Black Company
For stuff to steal bits and pieces pieces from, like NPC's, bars/taverns/buildings or dungeon rooms I am using:
World's Largest Dungeon
For flavor I am using stuff like:
Book of Erotic Fantasy
Tournaments, Fairs and Taverns
Book of Taverns
Complete Guide to Alcohol
Taverner's Trusty Tome
Encyclopedia Arcane: Nymphology
Complete Guide to Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
What I plan on doing is having many different options available to the characters all the time. At all times I want to be spinning many threads of a story through the scenes the characters are interacting in. This will allow them to do one or more of many things at all times, giving them the power to make their own destiny. These include:
1. The basic bar scene---including brawls, gambling, drinking and women
2. A dungeon crawl (using the Castle Zagyg boxed set, plus WG13, above)
3. Underworld/crime themes and storylines
4. Political (going to be mostly at higher levels)
5. Weird random stuff, as befits a city in close proximity to Zagyg's newly opened for exploration castle and dungeons.
6. Wars and rumors of wars.
7. Pirate related stuff--Freeport is great for both this and the underworld themes
8. Planar stuff---I envision this place as sort of a nexus of portals, like Sigil but to a lesser degree. Many extraplanar visitiors, either living openly or in disguise.
9. All my favorite characters from old school literature will be there, as well as some of the original Greyhawk characters. Fafhrd will be having a beer with with Mordenkainen and Elric in a bar, discussing whether they want to team up and hit Zagyg's ruins. They will all be low level, commensurate with the PC's own at any given time. This part I am especially looking forward to.
10. Random acts of senseless violence, often not related to the characters, but which affects them.
11. Dark lovecraftian evil, mixed with an old old history of the region. Cthulu in style.
As long as I have a big enough sandbox, I can handle any choice the players make. I'll just have a notebook of common resources, like shops, businesses, npc's, etc., so that I can always pull something out of my hat. I will also have a broad outline of what will be transpiring in the world under each of the 11 themes I listed above, so that the characters can jump into whatever situation they choose and begin to interact with and shape that aspect of the game.
There will be no overarching themes of "save the world", and no high level characters acting as Elminster did, nor any organizations like the Harpers. They characters are on their own, the world is a very dangerous place, and there is no one to look out for you. You live and die by your decisions.
MAgic will be odd, dangerous unique and rare. Less +1 swords, more Wand of Wonders.
Like I said, I can handle the aspect of Pathfinder having characters with abilities skills and feats. That level of differentiation is fine. The only hard part is going to be how that level of crunch interferes with the freewheeling DM style needed for the game. In other words, to the extent that it takes away from DM fiat and creativity and makes the players into rules lawyers.
I think the key to it is to handle skills in a different way. For example, Search would be changed so that the characters have to describe what they are doing specifically, and then roll the search check to see if they find it. They would say "I look for a hidden bottom to a chest" and roll a search check to see if they see one. That combines both the old and new styles of game, which forces the players to be skillful, as opposed to relying solely on numbers on a character sheet to determine their success. Player skill will be more important than character sheet skill bonuses.
Lkewise, I will be doing away with "social" skills like diplomacy, bluff, intimidate, etc. How the player acts it out will determine its success. If the players insist on having the skills in the game, they will be just one component of the equation, not the determining component.
This exerpt from the Swords and Wizardry book (the "clone" of OD&D, for lack of a better word) is something that I will use to guide my actions as DM:
"SWORDS & WIZARDRY is a free-form roleplaying
game, meaning that there aren’t very many rules. The
Referee is responsible for handling situations that
aren’t covered by the rules, making fair evaluations of
what the characters do and deciding what happens
as a result. This is not a game in which the players are
“against” the Referee, even though the Referee is re-
sponsible for creating tricky traps, dangerous situa-
tions, and running the monsters and other foes the
PCs will encounter during the game. In fact, the play-
ers and the Referee cooperate with each other to cre-
ate a fantasy epic, with the Referee creating the set-
ting and the players developing the story of the he-
roes. If they aren’t skillful and smart, the epic might be
very short. But it’s not the Referee’s job to defeat the
players—it’s his job to provide interesting (and dan-
gerous) challenges, and then guide the story fairly."
To the extent I can do this, with a game like our houseruled version of Pathfinder, which has a more detailed rule system than OD&D, and still run a game with an OD&D feel to it, I will be sucessful in my efforts.