What’s Character Progression For?

On another forum, someone was asking about how to deal with the problem of a new player joining a group and being underpowered relative to the existing players. They were mostly getting answers from people who were assuming that players will feel cheated if they don’t have character progress or if someone else gets to the same place without the same trials and tribulations. What I think of as a very “old school”, D&D viewpoint. This is a slightly edited version of my response. 

Could a game be designed where new characters could come in and be as effective (primarily in combat, I suppose) as current members of the group? A level-less system of sorts? 

I was thinking characters could always be basically the same, but might have a wider variety of skills than a newer character.

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