A while back I mentioned that death should be important. Recently, several characters in the Hounds game died, and I've been considering methods of getting players back into the groove without forcing them to be 3-4 levels behind the party. While there's something to be said for starting at level one (indeed, it was I who said it), there's also something to be said for not being a huge number of levels behind. For one thing, a character that underleveled is going to be a constant hinderance at every turn and will be in far more danger than the other characters in the party. I think it's reasonable to start people back at level one when the party is scattered along the trail between 2-3 but being inserted into a party that's all 4 going on 5 is really a bummer.
The new method I've adopted is allowing them to create characters with a set amount of experience (generally enough to get a single-classed fighter to the average level of the party). This doesn't account for magic, though, and I have in the past been guilty of allowing newly created characters in parties of an average level of 3+ to roll for random magical items. This has resulted in a revolving door of characters with permanent magic who enter the game, die because they are overzealous, not protected enough, or simply unlucky, and leave their magic with the party. This magical inflation needed to be combatted somehow (and I managed to remove at least one of the offending weapons by direct insight from a god warning that it was evil—it helps that it was a slave overseer's club used to beat rebellious slaves in Essad).
An answer has been lying under my nose all the time: the Monstrous Manual adventurer entry, under the human heading. There are percentile chances for adventurers to be carrying magical items by class and level listed there, which has allowed me to give a chance of magic without the necessity. Starting new members at level 3 also reduces the chances that they will die simply because they are lower level than the rest of the party or because they didn't have enough monetary resources to buy themselves armor. This reduces the death rate of incoming characters and thus increases the retention rate of magic.
Another interesting note about characters who join with a few levels on them: they're ripe for having their backstory explored. There's a whole passel of problems that arises when you try to play in a historical period that has already happened in a character's lifetime (for example, what if they get scarred? What if they die? What if they get a bunch more xp and are actually higher level?) but those can be addressed as they come up.
So it seems I've refined my argument about starting people at a level higher than one. I do believe there's good cause to do so, even in the higher level parties, but in my experience the players of those characters tend not to want to play them as lower level and to engage fully in whatever adventuring is going on. That, of course, leads to even more untimely deaths.