I've not encountered any other usage of the terms "set" and "scaled" when dealing with roleplaying games (Except the scaled minions of Set!), but what I mean in this context is set and scaled encounters. The former being a trope of sandbox play in which Area X has Y encounters no matter when you show up there, which could mean that your 10th level party is running amok in the Caves of Chaos, whereas in the latter instance, your party could encounter advanced goblins (perhaps with character levels) or new denizens entirely, which would challenge your party at their level.
My primary concern with this post isn't the actual encounters themselves, but the level at which to start new characters in my game. I've mentioned before that I'm trying to cleave to "old school" ways when possible, and alot of what isn't informed by blogs and various readings of old rule books comes from my personal beginnings into the hobby. All my DMs made us start at 1st with new characters when our old one died or was irrevocably lost or we retired one in favor of another, cooler concept.
This wasn't anything to us, and in fact, we always felt that the DMs that started people out at higher level either were doing "crazy" stuff in their game, or we felt like we had to bring our game face, because we were getting into some shit. That feeling has been almost killed by the Adventure Path and the scaled encounters therein.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm fully aware that my preferred rules set brought about the dominance of the Adventure Path, and in fact...I have no true problem with them as a form of gaming. I just ran a campaign using one, myself, and it was one of the most fun runs I've had in my gaming history, but I digress.
The thing I really want to address here, and a cohesive point to all my rambling is this: Recently, Angela lost a character. She was upset at this, apparently...and it was made worse by my stating that she would have to start her new character at level 1.
Is the call unfair? I don't think so, but that's not to say I don't understand why someone would be iffy or upset about it.
The key factor in it not being a problem is because, as mentioned before, my world is set. Everything stays static until the PCs explore the area, so even if the party averages 5th level, they might still walk into a place overrun with 1st level encounters. This is an even easier transition because of how the experience chart scales, giving lower level characters a chance to "catch up" eventually. Starting at first level also promotes character growth through an extended progression, instead of trying to shoehorn who should be a fully developed character (someone with experience under their belt) into the campaign.
On the flip side, you're first level...danger is more dangerous, as it were. One or two hits might have you down for the count, you might not be able to make a necessary save, etc. The only other problem inherent in my Wilderlands game is that we use the Slow experience progression, so sure...it takes a bit to gain the xp to level, but that doesn't truly affect the power scale, since everyone else is, too.
I do believe that intelligent and cautious play can keep any level of character alive, but I can understand feeling left in the dust, hence I've decided that any player losing a character will make a new character at the level of thier old character - 5, or barring 5 levels....should any other player have a character of 6 level, the new character will enter at level 2, 11th for level 3, and so on (whichever method is better.) That's a big gap, yes...but not one that cannot be recovered from with the scaled xp progression.
This is a loose ruling. We'll see how it goes. Any thoughts from my players would be welcome!