I'm planning to run a Planescape game in 3.5 and want to offer players the opportunity to play unusual characters within the system. Ideally power level wouldn't be a concern, but some players might prefer to play more standard races and I don't want character level skewed across the party. Any suggestions or concepts would be very helpful.
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Class Abilities almost always overshadow Racial Abilities at later levels
Except in the case of fairly weak classes, most classes tend to overshadow any racial abilities a character has at later levels. Usually, this ends up meaning that the character who picked the race with a level adjustment ends up far weaker at later levels than the character who picked a normal, no level adjustment race.
Consider the Level Adjustment Buyoff from Unearthed Arcana
Obviously, this isn't ideal for keeping the party level even at first, but buying off level adjustment through a fixed XP cost is much more likely to keep the party level even across all members later in the game. If your game doesn't use XP (say, you advance characters at the speed of plot) then consider giving a level adjusted character extra levels at certain points until their level is equal to that of the party. Say, a level adjusted character hits level 3 when his allies are at level 4, give him an extra level to bump him up to four. You could potentially use the Level Adjustment Buyoff table as a guideline for when you grant characters their "catch-up" levels.
Give the Characters with Level-Adjusted Races their Racial benefits over Time
Instead of the Level Adjustment Buyoff I mentioned above, you could instead parcel out racial abilities and stat boosts as the characters level up for the various level adjusted races, and make a weakened version of the race on par with normal races for the early levels. When you grant the characters with Level Adjusted races their racial benefits at later levels, they'll be a nice reward but still shouldn't overpower the more ordinary characters. The only downside I can see to this particular method is that it requires a little work from you to decide when to give each character their individual racial benefits. Hopefully either of these will work for you.
One model I was looking at was offering 40 points in point buy (it's a higher-powered game) and allowing players to trade 2 points for +1 in free level adjustment, to a cap of +5 LA. For characters with no level adjustment and no template additions, I'd also throw in a bonus feat.
Step 1: Find out what the highest ECL that anybody wants to play is.
Step 2: Everybody is that level to start out with
Step 3: Let everybody gestalt, with one side being their Race + a Tier 6 or 5 class and the other side being whatever they intend to play.
First I think power level is a concept that the GM decides because he sets the tone to the worlds and is also responsible for creating the encounters thus he needs to adjust the power of his players to A: survive the encounter if possible, B: not blow through each encounter with no effort or risk by the players and C: create a sense of realism that can fool them to believe that they are struggling in the world to become heroes not just hacking the game and winning everything.
Now to address your question; If you give your players a list of good templates that are well balanced but a large list from +1 LA all the way to +3 LA you will have a large variety to your base races that can match almost any other starting creature from the SAVAGE Species book; also if you give the players the chance to play awakened animals it can also bring balance to your other race options.
It will vastly depend on what everyone is playing on a good balance of level adjust and power to the rest of the party; If one player is play say a Solar and another player plays a Half-Elf you beginning power balance is off by a lot. Even a Solar by level will still be much more powerful then your base class Half-Elf.
It will all depend on what everyone wants to play.
Now for your other part of the question how can you keep everyone's level around the same if all the power balance is hugely out of balance the answer is easy Simply remove the Level Adjust from all the more powerful players and you will all level at the same rate. This will make the more powerful players even much more powerful then the standard races and might change your game quite a bit.