In this Stack Exchange question, we have the following statement, given while discussing players taking on ridiculous risk.

Sometimes players bemoan the revolving door for life and death, I suspect your game might need a little bit more of it, though.

And in this post on the Alexandrian, we have the following statement, given while discussing the cheapening of death within D&D.

I have an aesthetic problem with D&D in general: I dislike the revolving door of death.

What is the "revolving door of death"?

Please let me know if more information is required to solve this issue.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It looks a lot like a wood chipper without the R rating. \$\endgroup\$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 0:51

4 Answers 4


When Death is cheap and reversible...

A revolving door as a trope that is very common. For example, Arkham Asylum is said to have a revolving door, where criminals get in the door and right out again, repeating their shenanigans, though this is also called Cardboard Prison. Relationships that are on-and-off-again are called Revolving Door Relationships, if the moral side of a character flips between two extremes again and again, it's a Heel-Face Revolving Door - Today a Villain, tomorrow a hero and back to the start again.

Akin to that, the trope of "Death is Cheap" can also be named a "revolving Door of Death" or "Revolving Door Afterlife" as well as "Comic Book Death" and "More Comebacks Than Lazarus".

What is a game with Revolving Door Afterlife/Revolving Door of Death?

A game that qualifies for the trope has generally these characteristics:

  • Death is not final and reversible
  • Reverting death has some -cost
  • costs are not the self of the character, and don't alter or pervert the character.

Without the first spot, All Deaths Final would apply. Games that use that don't allow coming back as yourself at all. They might allow communication with your departed soul or for the soul to become something different, but you can't be resurrected. So the counterpoint here is: The game allows with some mechanic to get the dead person back to life as themselves.

The second point is all that separates Death is Cheap from They Killed Kenny Again. Think of Paranoia as just about not going to the territory: If your PC dies, there's almost no repercussion but for your reserve clone amount going down. In the case of D&D, this has been historically some amount of XP and money. The price is commonly not neglectable.

The third point separates this setup from games that treat death as a highly traumatic experience or one that perverts the character. A strange example of this is Mummy the Resurrection, where the first death changes your character from before the prologue to something entirely new, but every death after that is either cheap (you just lose a year or three) or a slap on the wrist.

Now, the Revolving Door can feel entirely different depending on the price or impact of death: If it is merely monetary or a temporary setback, then the impact of death becomes nearly none, and then the game feels more revolving door than in games where the price of death is considerable.

Games that run Death is cheap

A random choice of games that do this are:

  • Mummy the Resurrection revolves around this to some degree, but your first death alters you. After that, dying is an inconvenience to some mummies. However, others can get into trouble as they lose months to decades before coming back, and kind of lose touch or their last projects in the living world.
  • D&D / Pathfinder associate a price with death. In some editions that is a price in XP, statistics or negative levels and gold, in D&D 5th edition, the price is mostly cash.
    • Spells that embody this are Revivify, Raise Dead, Reincarnate, Clone, Resurrection and others.
  • Paranoia is an embodiment of this. You have X clones. There's no consequences to losing any clone but the last.
  • Eclipse Phase just puts a price on your next life. But if you can't pay... you're out.

Death is cheap is NOT death is preventable!

On the counterpoint: Some games do allow to prevent death by burning some kind of resource to not die, but that does just mean that your character doesn't die in the moment. These games are not Death is Cheap.

  • Shadowrun. If you are dead, you are dead, no way to get back. You can prevent death by burning Karma, but not come back from it if you don't do that.
  • Legend of the 5 Rings. Same, but you pay in Void points.
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Pathfinder 1e, negative levels from Raise Dead, to be removed with Restoration. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:17
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @From that's why I adjusted. Negative levels is PF1e specifically. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're listing Mummy, here's a lone voice crying in the night for a mention of Nephilim, even though I know it's too unknown to deserve one, where you play elemental spirits seeking out new hosts after their old ones die: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edit has improved the accuracy. +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 17:57

It's the common use of life-restoring magic for characters

You frame the question as system-agnostic, but refer to a quote from D&D, and I think for good reason. Not all Role-Playing Games have a "revolving door of life and death".

I think the term originates from Comic Book Culture originally. The first mention I could find talks about comic superheroes being killed off and resurrected routinely.

In a similar vein, the idea is that, due to the likes of raise dead and similar spells in games like Dungeons & Dragons, characters that die do not really stay dead; they are easily brought back to life. This makes death much less of a final end for the character, and with such spellcasting being readily available, makes death little more than a short stopover.

Other game systems such as Call of Cthulhu lack such magic as a standard ability of player characters. If your character dies in those, they are typically gone for good.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch it's a trope, that those two spells just as much as reincarnation, clone and others run into \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 15:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, raise dead, ressurection, revivify, all the various spells that make death, normally a terminal state, just a transient inconvenience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Gotcha - I totally thought this was about something else with the link to the original question about death->new character->death->new characer - rinse.repeat. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your first line is the wrong perspective. I don't think the revolving door problem is specifically about the PCs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 5:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Scott I adjusted the title. My take it that the majority of the complaint that is inherent in this way to call it is due to the PCs, but you are right, it might also affect some major NPCs. In my experience, bringing NPCs back from the dead however is usually reserved for plot-critical antagonists, or something like a lich where it is part of the nature of the monster, and therefore much less common. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 5:50

"Revolving door" is a metaphor for a transition between states being "too easy"

When someone is complaining that transitioning between two states is (in their opinion) easier than it should be, they often use the revolving door as a metaphor for this. The visual of the constantly revolving door evokes the idea of a constant flow of people or things in and out of the two states. One commonly bemoaned example is "the revolving door between government and industry", which refers to the tendency of government officials overseeing a particular industry to accept jobs working in that industry and vice versa. So when someone refers to "the revolving door of life and death" in the context of D&D, this is simply referring to the fact that it is not terribly difficult for the party to bring someone back from the dead, given the existence of spells that can do so for an amount of money that one would consider trivial compared to the value of a person's life.

The "revolving door" mitigates the severity of death

There are a few reasons people consider it to be a problem that death is so easily undone. These tie into the mechanical and narrative functions of death. Mechanically, death can be viewed as one of the most severe possible consequences for failure. Narratively, death is generally understood as the end of a life, a threshold that is impossible or nearly impossible to return from. The reason people bemoan "the revolving door of life and death" is that it undermines both of these functions. If death is easily undone, then mechanically, players may be more willing to try something excessively risky, since they have faith that they will be rescued even if they die. And narratively, players may fail to regard death with the finality it is supposed to have. For example, if the BBEG kills a beloved NPC to make an example of them, instead of getting enraged or despairing at this irrevocable ending of a life, the party may instead start searching their pockets for the materials needed to cast Revivify, which drastically alters their emotional response to the scene in a way that some DMs might find frustrating.

Of course, whether or not any particular rule system makes it too easy to restore dead creatures to life is largely a matter of opinion. Using the "revolving door" metaphor expresses the speaker's opinion in favor of the "too easy" side of this debate: they believe it should be more difficult (or maybe impossible) to come back from the dead.


I'm not sure if this phrase was ever used earlier, but afaik it originates from Marvel comics, where it is jokingly stated that mutant heaven has revolving doors instead of pearly gates. It refers to the fact that death in comics, just like in DnD, is more a temporary incovenience rather than something serious and permanent; as characters coming back and forth from the state of death.

death revolving doors comic

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If you're not sure, it's probably not a good time to answer. Research to be sure, then post your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 15:53
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I'm not sure about the origin of the phrase, which wasn't part of the question. I am fairly certain about its meaning. \$\endgroup\$
    – matszwecja
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 15:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .