Like Nathan, my instinct is to begin new characters at level 1, especially since the 3.x/Pathfinder experience system is self-correcting, and that new character would catch up eventually, allowing the player to organically develop their character in-game and give a basis for roleplay for the other players, instead of just slapping in a fully developed character who should have probably already been on the PC's radar, if they are on par with the group's abilities (which usually outstrip almost everyone in a region fairly quickly).
As he also pointed out, and of primary concern to me because I'm currently running an adventure path, however, is that it's simply not feasible to put a 1st level character in a story-driven campaign (one with scaled encounters, as I spoke about before). In those types of games, sadly, the power curve is a meat grinder for low-level characters.
Similar to Nathan's way of doing things, I usually start new characters at 1 level below the lowest level member in the party. This chart-based system, however, will allow players the opportunity to begin play in my games (or replace their fallen characters) with characters of up to the highest PC's level.
For this, I think there's no reason to fix something that isn't broke, so I will make very few changes to what is presented on Save or Die. Characters, of course, have first level as a given and then will roll for each additional possible level on the following chart, making additional rolls and completing level-specific tasks rolled as necessary until they can no longer progress.
The mechanics are as follows:
For each level, roll once on the following table.
Roll - Encounter TypeIf combat is rolled, check current level and randomize an encounter from the particular CR/EL rolled. Check the following chart for the result of this combat. Treasure gained is determined randomly for the EL of the opponent.
1-3 - Easy Combat (CR -1)
4-10 - Medium Combat (Equal CR)
11-13 - Difficult Combat (CR +1)
14-15 - Easy Skill Challenge (DC 10+PC level)
16-18 - Medium Skill Challenge (DC 15+PC level)
19-20 - Difficult Skill Challenge (DC 20+PC level)
Result - Reward
PC loses battle - Nothing
PC wins, but has lost over half hit points - 50% chance of level gain or treasure (player’s choice)
PC wins, but is wounded - Level gain, 50% chance of treasure
PC wins without being harmed - level gain and treasure
Skill Challenges consist of a test of three skills, each determined randomly. The success or failure of any of these checks determines the possible rewards, as noted below.
Result - Reward
PC fails all three skill checks - Nothing
PC makes one skill check - 50% chance of level gain or treasure (player’s choice)
PC makes two skill checks - Level gain, 50% chance of treasure
PC makes all skill checks - Level gain and treasure
Please note that this could land any character made stuck at 1st or 2nd level, but it gives a fair chance at moderate advancement, and has the added bonus of treasures that a character made at the flat level might have, as these are in addition to the gold allowance at the character's starting level.
I realize that the treasure being in addition is not really the spirit of what is presented with this system, but I like the possible character it could present for some campaigns, like my Wilderlands, where having anything scavenged from dungeons makes you a veritable badass.
All in all, I find this to be a pretty good system, and I hope some of my players will chime in on their thoughts, as well.