These days we have organized tournament play or "living" campaigns where a player can bring the same character they used in an earlier adventure to the current tournament.
Although no longer a thing, this used to happen all the time back in the early days of D&D.
The "founding fathers" of gaming often played in a fairly *pick-up game* style -- between sessions you may have very different player composition. Thus characters came and went, based on player availability.
This was aided by the monetary focus of AD&D exp -- sessions often ended up back in a town or safe haven, where treasure could be sold, and consumables purchased, training could be paid for, and so on.
It was less common to have a "cliff-hanger" or other mid-adventure session-end, so the issue of where Alpha the fighter or Bravo the thief went between sessions wasn't as big an issue.
Likewise, level disparity in the party wasn't as big an issue -- you normally had a handful of henchmen with you, and often a small army of hirelings too. The size of Wilderness encounters often made *not* travelling with a small army of mercenaries hazardous.
> Ex. In AD&D an encounter with Orcs was with 30-300 Orcs. 300 Orcs was going to be a bad time unless you could run, but even 30 was a perilous number for a party of four low level adventurers.
A party with a 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th lvl characters might not have been common, but it wasn't impossible. Keep in mind that Level Drain was **permanent** in AD&D1, and there was no (non-wish) way to restore it short of going out there and earning that Exp all over again.
It became common, when someone announced that they would run a game, that players would bring their best character. You *could* insist in starting everyone at first level, but one often received the kind of incredulous reactions a major-league sports franchise would get if they announced that they were starting with an all-rookie team.
*Story*-driven gaming wasn't that big a thing in the era before Dragonlance, stories emerged through play. So why would you not want "Lord Thrakkerzog the God Annihilator" in your game?
And there were some doozies. You met the guy who had "wished all his stats to max" in a previous campaign, hanging out with the guy whose character killed Thor and now uses his hammer. There were plenty of horror stories.
But on the other side of the coin, there was some great gaming. Players knew their *characters* (and there weren't many mechanics, so I'm not talking about skill-feat-combos) and cared about them. They were invested.
And those stories that emerged through play? They sure did. It was awesome.
By the mid-late 80's that era had faded. A new generation of gamer had been spawned, after Dragonlance *story* began to drive the game, instead of the other way around. There were some down-sides: railroading GMs began to haunt the landscape like killer-GMs once had. But there were some upsides too. You no longer had to explain in detail why Lord Thrakkerzog couldn't be a character in your game, his player understood that "I'm starting a new game" also meant that you were starting a new story -- Lord T had already had his moment in the sun.