When a PC dies or is otherwise removed from play, some GMs require that replacement PCs start out less powerful or capable than the rest of the party. This is a terrible idea.
I’ve tried mandating that new PCs join the campaign with less experience that existing PCs, and I’ve tried letting my players bring in new PCs at full strength. The latter approach — no penalty for replacement characters — was friendlier, caused no problems in my games and made the players involved happier. The former, on the other hand, can lead to disgruntled and unhappy players — for me, there’s no question which one is the right approach.
Update: (I reworked this a bit after thinking about the different objections to the idea of penalty-free replacement PCs.) In the process of coming to this conclusion myself, I had to get past three objections — all of which turned out to be false.
There should be consequences for PC death. Consequences are built into nearly every RPG out there. In most games, you don’t get to play that character anymore — and considering how much investment is involved in a good PC, that’s a pretty big deal. In many RPGs, there are mechanics that provide consequences: in D&D, for example, it’s pretty easy to come back from the dead — but you pay a mechanical price until later levels.
My players will switch PCs all the time. Really, they won’t — and if any of them do, that’s a social contract issue, not a mechanical one. Accounting for the rare player who is a chronic character-hopper at the expense of the 99% of players who replace their characters infrequently and for valid reasons is just unfair.
The other players will mind. I couldn’t get past this one until I decided to just give it a shot — and as it turned out, they didn’t mind. If you trust your players and they trust each other, then folks will only replace their PCs when there’s a good reason — and everyone will have more fun as a result.
Have you tackled this issue before? Do you prefer one approach over the other as a GM? What do your players think of your take on this issue?