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Closed Circle

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"The term 'Closed circle' is a mystery term. It refers to a situation where contact with the outside world has been severed... This is where the setting is truly allowed to shine. The culprit and other characters are unable to escape the [closed circle]. At the same time, there won't be any new characters from the outside."

This is a stock plot designed to force the characters or players to stay in a location and get involved in the adventure... and not be able to leave until it's done.

The variations on this set up are nearly limitless, and can work in pretty much any and every genre or setting. The classic set up though is as follows: The heroes are driving along, when all of a sudden what should happen but an inconvenient flat tire. Unfortunately, the spare is flat too, the rain is coming down, and of course it's also thundering. There's no choice but to stay at the Haunted Castle until the weather clears. Lo and behold, the Mad Scientist living there has just reached the critical phase in his breakthrough in bio-chemical research, and of course something goes horribly wrong and the undead Venus flytrap gets loose and starts picking them off one by one. The heroes are now locked in and can't leave, have to solve the mystery to find the demonic plant's one weakness (hint: it ain't water) and hopefully survive long enough to leave.

This plot bears similarities to You All Meet in an Inn, coupled with a Broken Bridge, and usually beginning as a Deadly Road Trip. Some genres can't get enough of it; Zombie Apocalypse movies like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its various spinoffs, remakes, and homages all use it, as do most other monster movies and many Horror stories in general. They'll even up the drama by picking them off one by one until only The Aloner is left to fight for their life. The screenwriting book Save the Cat calls the premise Monster in the House, and points out that the story falls flat if the protagonist could just cheerfully catch a bus out of danger.

Think it's been around long enough to be a Discredited or Dead Horse Trope? Nah, it's more like an archetype, a versatile tool used to stick your characters in one spot and force them to deal with the danger. The heroes can be space cops, vacationers on a beach trip, or FBI investigators. They can be trapped by a ghost, simple mechanical troubles, a man in a mask, or an eccentric billionaire. To get out they might need to solve a mystery, survive a serial killer, repair their car, or just wait out the rain. Like we said, the variations are limitless.

There are the following ways to go about this:

  1. The location, normally connected to the rest of the world, is made inescapable.
  2. Orientation is difficult and any attempt to leave will end with Going in Circles. Usually nightfall or bad weather is making it even more difficult. Maps, phones, GPS etc. have been lost or destroyed, or never existed in the first place. The characters are too glad to have one certain point on the horizon (even if it is the Haunted House) to risk wandering off and get hopelessly lost. In some cases this may be due to magic or space warps.
  3. If the characters arrived by vehicle, circumstances will prevent them from using that same vehicle to leave.
    • The vehicle is inoperable. (The car has a flat tire, the motorbike has no gas, or the spaceship's warp drive is on the fritz). The characters must find a way to repair it before they can escape.
    • The vehicle has been destroyed. A replacement must be found, stolen, or built. Typical Deserted Island scenario.
    • The vehicle is on a schedule, has already departed, and will not return for a certain amount of time. The characters do not realize the danger until after their ride leaves. In this case, their objective is to survive for the set amount of time until the [ferry to the mainland/chartered flight/evac chopper/etc.] arrives.
    • The vehicle IS the dangerous, inescapable setting. See Thriller on the Express, Death in the Clouds.
  4. The characters are under a compulsion to stay, either by their own will or because something else forces them to remain.
    • The heroes are physically unable to leave an Enclosed Space because there is no where to leave to.
    • Police or authorities quarantine the area, possibly in search of the characters if they're criminals.
    • There's a Serial Killer or monster killing anyone who tries to leave.
    • The location is booby-trapped to be inescapable. Often there's a way to unlock the mansion, which might involve puzzles, murder, or solving a mystery.
    • Your Player Character is holding the Idiot Ball and simply refuses to leave Because The Plot Says So.
    • The location is a Mobile Maze that won't let them leave.
    • Each of the characters is equipped with a Restraining Bolt that won't let them leave, or an Explosive Leash that will kill them if they try.
    • The characters know that if they leave without solving the mystery, the culprit will escape.
    • The characters learn of a dangerous threat that must be resolved quickly and can only be done on-site.
    • A loved one or particularly important item or piece of information are held in the area and leaving before they are secured will result in the protagonists losing them permanently.

This is the driving force behind many Let's You and Him Fight scenarios: Why would this group of incongruous heroes and/or villains fight that other group of incongruous heroes and/or villains? Because some wizard/super-scientist/Eldritch Abomination stuck them in a pocket dimension! Trying to get out is impossible because there are either no exits or because they're all locked in such ways that would be impossible to open by the group(s). The only way to open the Closed Circle is a fight to the death! Needless to say, most times, they either find a way out that was NOT accounted for, or just take out the ringmaster of the whole debacle.

Thanks to Technology Marches On, an increasingly unavoidable bit of Fridge Logic crops up in modern works regarding why the characters don't just call the police/mountain rescue/the Ghostbusters on their mobile phones. Hence the nigh-omnipresent Acceptable Breaks from Reality that show that Cell Phones Are Useless. Even works that avoid that trope play with it in that having a functional means of communication isn't really important, due to inaccessibility or a time limit that's shorter than the time it would take for rescue to arrive.

A Super-Trope to Trapped in Another World and Escape from the Crazy Place. A common such plot is "Die Hard" on an X. In a Video Game may be enforced by a Bottomless Pit, Broken Bridge, Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence, Invisible Walls, Locked Doors, or a Point of No Return. A good excuse for a Bottle Episode. In a Tabletop RPG, this is a Railroading technique. See also Gateless Ghetto, Trapped-with-Monster Plot. The "Groundhog Day" Loop could be considered a temporal version of this. Enclosed Space is a subtrope.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Buso Renkin: Doktor Butterfly's Alice In Wonderland does this in its dispersed form, trapping the students in the school so that the Revised Humanoid Homunculi can feed on them.
  • Roughly a quarter of Case Closed stories, rising to half for multiparters. For example, Episode 52 has one of these where the main characters get a flat tire and have to stay at a spooky temple where a murder takes place. At least the episode explains that it's a second flat tire, so they can't just use the spare.
  • The first half of Cross Ange takes place on Arzenal, a Penal Colony, where Norma are forced to fight and kill DRAGONs.
  • Death Parade mostly takes place in a bar where two dead people arrive to have their eternal souls judged over bar games. They have no idea how they got there, they are threatened into playing the games, and they cannot leave until the game is over.
  • Kirisaki Island in Detective School Q leaves classes Q and A stormbound on said island. There is a serial killer involved. Fifty years ago, and the rest is Dan screwing with Class Q.
  • In Digimon Adventure, Myotismon creates a fog barrier that turns people around when they try to escape the city.
  • If you are chosen by the titular Gantz, try to exit a set area before the time limit and Your Head Asplode. Everybody else is free to move through the area as they please, but the scenario is always set so they can affect nothing.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya:
    • Lampshaded during the Island mystery, in which the SOS Brigade is on a mansion on a private island, with only themselves, the island's owner, his brother, and his staff. A storm prevents anyone from leaving and destroys phone reception. Then their host turns up dead... Itsuki even uses what might be the common name for describing it: a Closed Circle. Ultimately, it turns out to have been an invoked trope: no murder ever took place, the "victim" is alive and well, and he and the others are actually part of the Organization, who set the whole thing up due to their worry that Haruhi would subconsciously make a real murder mystery due to the setting and her desire to experience strange things.
    • In the novels they later get in a similar situation while going on a ski resort. Turns out this one isn't intentionally done, and it took practically all of Nagato's powers and some basic knowledge in graph theory for them to escape.
    • The conclusion of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (both the book and the first season) is effectively a closed circle invocation as well, the circle being delimited by the dimensions of Haruhi's "closed space", and the time available to escape being delimited by how effectively the Celestials can stomp about. It is an interesting reduction of the trope to its simplest arrangement. There are only two people in the closed space, one of whom is the hero (Kyon), and one of them the unknowing monster (Haruhi), but only Kyon recognizes what is going on. Kyon has to figure out the "mystery" of how to escape the trap. The two ghostly intrusions (Nagato and Koizumi) are allowable in that their fates are also tied to the resolution so are arguably closed in as well, and they don't give Kyon any new information (they basically remind him of what they had previously told him).
  • Hell Girl had an episode in which a writer and his daughter are trapped in an old asylum.
  • Many a case arc in The Kindaichi Case Files would have the participants being forcibly stuck where the murder case is taking place in said arc (the only way in & out of the area is made inaccessible, the communication devices to the outside world are sabotaged and/or have no connection access point, the ferry service that is due to arrive to pick people up has left and won't return for a few days, etc.), creating panic for the survivors as a result.
  • Liar Game frequently invokes this trope by setting its various challenges in secluded locations. Rarely are the players physically prohibited from leaving, but only winners can truly "escape" by paying half their winnings to the tournament committee; the rest end up in crushing debt.
  • Happens Once an Episode in Mononoke, since the Medicine Peddler always seals off the area with magic to protect its inhabitants and prevent the mononoke escaping. Moreover, two episodes take place in a boat out at sea and a moving train carriage.
  • Ruhenheim in Monster is a particularly grand-scale case of the horror take on this trope.
  • Princess Tutu slowly reveals the town is magically cut off from the outside world. The spell is broken at the end of the series.
  • In Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, the main cast is trapped within a magical barrier that prevents them from leaving the forest. The plot involves figuring out who the traitor among them is who activated the barrier.
  • In Shadows House, the Children's Wing is surrounded on all sides by walls and a steep cliff, and the only way in and out of the premises is the bridge to the Adult's Building, a place that is strictly off limits to the children. Even without these security measures, the children are never compelled to leave because they have all been brainwashed to be unconditionally loyal to Lord Grandfather and the Shadows House.
  • The setting of Summer Time Rendering is an island 4km away from the mainland, with only a ferry responsible for bringing and returning people from the island. As Hizuru notices, the boat operatives are already Shadows themselves, and considering that now the Shadows know they have opponents, if any of the heroes try to leave, they're likely to be killed on the trip.
  • In the final act of Uzumaki, the Spiral transforms Kurozu-cho into this; anyone entering by sea has their boat destroyed by hurricanes, all paths out on foot spiral back to the town, and in the end the boundaries of the closed circle shrink to nothing, ending with the flow of time at the center standing still, trapping Shuichi and Kirie at the heart of the Spiral, surrounded by the petrified bodies of everyone else of the now-erased town to gaze upon the source of the Spiral’s curse forever.
  • Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid is set in the artificial island of Mermaid, where Armed Virus carriers are sent to be quarantined until a cure can be found.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters, the gang has to complete five trials before being able to return to their world, and early episodes are spent wondering why they're in the Capsule Monster world in the first place.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Batman storyline Batman: No Man's Land, Gotham City cut off from the rest of the United States after a massive earthquake ravages most of it. The city's remaining bridges are destroyed and the National Guard are set up around the other end to prevent anyone getting in or out. Numerous named characters are able to slip in through various means, however.
  • In Cinema Purgatorio, once somebody enters the cinema, they aren't able to go back out. While they are free to roam anywhere inside, taking one of the exits just warps a person back in front of the door. At first, the protagonist just accepts this as part of a dreamlike experience, but as she keeps waking up in the theater, she becomes just as resigned to staying as the other patrons.
  • The protagonists of Elk's Run happen to live in their Closed Circle. Their town was built to be isolated from the rest of society, with the only way out being a tunnel through the mountains that could easily be blocked off during an emergency. Police investigation of a Vigilante Execution qualifies as an emergency to those who participated in said execution, no matter how much the rest of the cast wants to get out of town.
  • The Maze Agency: Gabe and Jen are stranded on island with a (literal) boatload of suspects when the boat that brought them there is blown up in #20. And then someone is murdered following a séance...

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: The entire cast and crew of Bolt’s TV show are gathered together on a movie studio set in “The Murder Mystery” after The Director is killed. All are suspects with plausible motives, and Penny monitors the proceedings.
  • In the Invader Zim fic The Corn Maze, Dib drags Gaz along with him to sneak into the titular tourist trap at night to investigate rumors of ghostly activity. After bumping into Zim and GIR (the former humoring the latter's desire to make crop circles) and determining that they're responsible for the activity, they decide to go home... only to find that every pathway suddenly leads back to the center of the maze, even if they walk in a straight line. The rest of the plot follows the siblings and Zim trying to figure out what's causing this and how to get out.
  • A Crown of Stars: In chapter 45 Shinji and Asuka are transporting troops from Avalon to their homeworld when the portal gets shut and they are cut off and trapped in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by warlords and bandit gangs. Their only option is fighting the dictators ruling the wastelands and ruins as trying to convince the person who blocked the dimensional gate to let them leave.
  • The first installment of the Elemental Chess Trilogy turns Central City into this when it gets invaded. All entrance and exit points are blocked off.
  • Escape from the Moon: The entire story (except for the last chapter) takes place in a small space station and the area right outside.
  • In Hope for the Heartless: When the invisible and powerful servants of the Fates are assigned to temporarily serve and counsel the Horned King, they are bound within the borders of his castle courtyard.
  • Mega Man Dissonance: All teleportation in the city has been disabled (except for the Element 5, naturally), so Mega Man and Proto Man must find out the source of the jamming.
  • The Deserted Island in Mother of Invention is already this for Applejack, who as an earth pony has no access to Pegasus Flight or Unicorn Teleportation. She later finds out that these are all blocked as well.
  • In the Sabrina Gaiden of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, when the title character begins to terrorize her hometown, some people try to escape, but they always run into her on the edges of the town.
  • In Springaling, the undead characters can't leave Fazbear's Fright until they "earn their balloons". While other characters can enter and leave the building, circumstances often conspire for Springtrap (the only one with a physical form) to be unable to exit.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Other World in the Coraline movie is only as big as the surrounding area of the Pink Palace. Once Coraline gets the idea to just walk away, she finds the forest flaking apart to reveal a white void - which reforms into the Pink Palace right in front of her again. It's presumably because the Other Mother doesn't have the power to reach any further. "Small world."
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown: A literal closed circle made from ice prevents the protagonists from leaving the valley. Their goal is reaching a "boat" (a vast piece of wood from a giant tree) to survive the inevitable flooding.
  • Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers: Shaggy and Scooby want to leave the mansion as soon as they find out it's haunted, but Shaggy's jeep sinks into the swamp, no one can come to get it out until morning, and it's miles to the nearest town (with a gun-totting hillbilly with a grudge against Shaggy's family roaming through the woods). Unusually for this trope, he gets the truck back some time later. Instead of hightailing it out of there, as you might expect, Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy decide to stay and finish the case. Seems even Shaggy and Scoob can't let a mystery go when it hooks them.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Most of the plot takes place in Sugar Rush because Vanellope, being a glitch, is unable to leave her game.

  • As a Ghost Ship in space, the Aurora in Dead Silence is inescapable. Doubly so if the passengers (or the rescue crew) activate the "Versailles Contingency", which locked the rich passengers in secured section of the ship as a panic room, but only could be opened from the outside.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Even when the Nautilus travels around the whole world, The Professor Aronnax, Battle Butler Conseil and Idiot Hero Ned Land are confined to the submarine. They can only talk with Captain Nemo (since all the other crew speak a secret language).
  • Under the Dome: Stephen King's survival thriller novel is set in the fictional town of Chester's Mill, where a literal impenetrable dome is created around the town, separating it from the outside world entirely, with several parties struggling for survival, but also undermining each other due to being at odds. To make matters worse, the dome causes a greatly diminished air circulation, making breathing increasingly difficult due to accumulating pollution.
  • Anna Pigeon: In Firestorm, Anna is working with a fire crew during a wildfire. The crew is caught in a firestorm and retreat into their personal shelters. After the firestorm passes, one of the crew is found stabbed to death inside his shelter, meaning the killer has to have been one of those present when the firestorm hit. Then a rampaging winter storm descends, cutting the survivors off from civilization.
  • Battle Royale takes place in a purposely vacated, remote island. Moreover, the students are equipped with radio transmitters that will explode if they somehow do manage to leave the confines of the island, forcing them to compete in the titular Battle. Moreover, as the "game" goes on, more and more zones of the island are made off limits, tightening the circle.
  • Arthur Clarke's short Breaking Strain: the realities of interplanetary navigation.
  • In Lawrence Block's The Burglar in the Library Bernie, Carolyn and the other guests and staff of Cuttleford House are trapped there after the rope bridge is sabotaged.
  • Anthony Boucher's The Case of the Seven Sneezes.
  • The Other House and garden in Coraline. If you walk too far, you find yourself coming back to the house again, and only Coraline herself and the cat can leave. The real Pink Palace is not this, but when Coraline attempts to call the police for help, they don't believe that her parents have been kidnapped and so she has to deal with the situation herself.
  • Michael Crichton loved this trope. Seriously, pick nearly any one of his books.
    • Played with in The Andromeda Strain in that the characters enter and remain at Wildfire by choice, since it is the best place in the world to study Andromeda.
  • Agatha Christie liked this:
    • And Then There Were None: The mystery occurs on a remote island where communications have been sabotaged and stormy weather makes it unsafe to take a boat to or from the mainland.
    • Even better: Murder on the Orient Express (1934). The entire murder investigation goes on while the eponymous train has been immobilized due to a snowstorm. The idea that the killer or killers could have escaped away is quickly shot down, by establishing that an attempt to escape on foot would be suicidal.
    • Death in the Clouds: Named a trope for its particular method; the murder occurred on a plane in flight, so the murderer couldn't be an outsider, and can't leave until the plane lands.
    • Cards on the Table: The only people in the room when Mr. Shaitana gets stabbed are the four successful murderers he "collected".
  • Dead Mountaineer's Hotel: The characters are in a hotel in a snowy valley, and an avalanche locks them from the outside world for at least a couple of days.
  • Devolution: Greenloop is several miles from the nearest main road... and that's before it turns out the whole road was destroyed in a landslide caused by the Rainier eruption.
  • Cyril Hare's An English Murder: heavy snow.
  • This happens in several books of Galaxy of Fear. It takes place on a number of different planets, and the very first book ended with their ride being destroyed. Although they were rescued by the crew of the Millennium Falcon, they were dropped off on another world to make their way from there right in the next book. In many other books, if the ship they picked up in the second one isn't damaged in some way, they have another reason they can't just leave.
  • In Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted: A Novel, the cast of characters trap themselves in an isolated theater, each unwilling to leave until they're able to present themselves as the hero of the resulting news stories and Ripped from the Headlines movie.
  • The Hunger Games: Twenty-four tributes are forced to fight to the death in an arena surrounded by force fields and natural boundaries like mountains and lakes. Tributes can receive supplies that float out of the sky on parachutes, but otherwise they're on their own. The Gamemakers can even instantaneously alter the arena to make it smaller and smaller as the games progress, thereby increasing the drama for the audiences both in- and out-of-universe.
  • Some of Matthew Reilly's works have this. Contest, Ice Station, Area 7, Army of would think he uses this trope so as to help concentrate the explosions and other demolition. The protagonist of his short story "The Dead Prince" invokes this trope so as to prevent the culprit from getting away.
  • In InCryptid, James Smith has a Hereditary Curse that prevents him from leaving the tiny Maine town he was born in. Every time he's tried, he collapses and would die if he didn't get back within the town limits. In the past, Thomas Price, who made a deal with the Crossroads, the same entity responsible for James's curse, was eventually magically confined to his own house, unable to leave it.
  • Several interesting examples in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. Cecilia is a city which has swallowed the world, Trude cannot be left because it is all cities and Penthesilia consists only of outskirts, leaving Marco Polo uncertain as to whether or not he can ever be not in the outskirts of that city.
  • The Invisible Host: human agency.
  • In Krabat, you can't run away from the mill — the master (an evil wizard) will prevent it. Even suicide won't work.
  • Christopher Manson's MAZE has two. The first is a network of menacing rooms that lead you around in circles with only one way out. The second is where you end up when you take that one way out.
  • The Maze Runner Trilogy:
    • The Maze Runner features a place called The Glade. A bunch of teenagers are trapped in it with no memory of their lives before they woke up there. The doors open at dawn and close at dusk, but only lead to a giant maze with no exit. Better yet, the maze changes every night while the doors are closed. Oh, and if you're in the maze at night, giant metal monsters attack you.
  • Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game: a man is shipwrecked on a remote island, with only an Ax-Crazy hunter for company.
  • In Murder at Colefax Manor, the player can't leave the manor's grounds until they have solved the mystery. Played straight when the player enters the caverns, as they are then unable to return to the manor or its grounds.
  • SJ Morden's One Way is largely set in an under-construction Mars base, so even if there was anywhere else on the planet to go, there wouldn't be enough oxygen or battery power to get there anyway.
  • Project NRI has the Niege Research Institute, where all the characters are trapped in.
  • In Pyramids, once the gigantic pyramid is completed, its incredible amount of Pyramid Power almost completely severs Djelibeybi from the world, trapping its inhabitants with ALL of its gods. Since several of the gods often were responsible for the same thing, Hilarity Ensues as the gods duke it out for control over things like the sun.
  • Septimus Heap:
    • In Magyk, Draggen Island is the Closed Circle, preventing Silas from returning and also DomDaniel from arriving.
    • Syren island in Syren.
    • The Heaps' room in Darke.
  • The novel Severance Package takes place mostly on one floor of an office building. It's revealed that the financial services firm where the main character works is really a cover branch for the CIA, and they're being shut down — the hard way. The people are given a choice: drink poisoned mimosas for a peaceful death, or be shot in the back of the head. The elevators have been disabled and the exit doors rigged with gas so no one can leave. Then the real fun begins ...
  • In Ellery Queen's The Siamese Twin Mystery, a forest fire traps the cast.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: As the water in the Grand Canyon retreats, David and the others find themselves trapped on a ledge high over the river.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: The Scholomance, an evil Wizarding School, is set up this way. The school is deep underground, the front doors lead right into hungry monsters, and the only other way out—a room where magic teleportation works—can only be used by students on official school missions, which neither the protagonist nor most of her classmates qualify for. As a result, the students are stuck there and cannot leave.

  • A very significant percentage of all theater-style Live-Action Role-Play games have some version of this trope. Otherwise, players being true to their characters might very well leave the game area.

  • In the Eagles song Hotel California, the narrator arrives at the hotel and later discovers that he apparently can't leave.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Played for Laughs in Get Fuzzy, whenever Bucky tries to pretend he didn't do whatever thing he did. Rob is always quick to realize that there are only three of them in the apartment, and he and Satchel can be accounted for.
    Rob: (as Satchel freaks out over a broken piggy bank) Well, it's only you and me and Bucky in this place. And since you and I didn't do it...
    Satchel: This is no time for riddles, Rob! If you know something, then for the love of food, out with it!

  • In the first season finale of Quest in Show, Droog Hemlock put a magical forcefield around Trottleara Castle for his coup, forcing Pratt to find and destroy the runes holding it up.

    Role Playing Games 
  • Almost all dramatic Journal Roleplay games take place in closed circles, forcing characters to stay where they otherwise wouldn't (unless a player drops). This is so prevalent that this type of game has earned the name "spooky jamjar".
  • The entire point (at least initially) of Escape from Ironheart is to, well, escape from Ironheart, a massive, supposedly inescapable prison.
  • Ruby Quest is set in a big underwater facility with no escape. Well, until the end.

    Tabletop Games 
This is a classic game master technique for getting players to stick around for a while and follow the plot.
  • In Betrayal at House on the Hill, the players always start in front of the main door, but can't just turn around and leave. You have to explore, triggering Omens, until the Haunt starts, at which point you may be able to escape... if the scenario lets you.
  • Part of the setup for "Cthulhu City", a Trail of Cthulhu variant setting, is that there's no reliable, mundane way to leave the city, and even if you think you've managed it, you haven't, to the point where there's a specific page the GM can reach for to come up with an excuse for why this particular escape attempt didn't work, plus some extra ideas in the text for specific areas. These can range from the straightforward (stopped by the Transport Police; car sabotaged) to the suspicious and occult (ship sunk by Something in the water; encounters with cultists; lost in the fog) to the just plain weird (trees in the forest gradually blur together until the investigators find themselves on a city street; attacked by invisible serial killer; the outside world is a post-apocalyptic landscape, an alien world, Carcosa or something; the first time you fall asleep after reaching another city, you wake up back in Great Arkham, but part of that city has been taken back in with you).
  • Mark Rosewater discusses the unique problems this trope presents for the story of Magic: The Gathering. Since Magic's main protagonists are almost all planeswalkers, and the defining trait of planeswalkers is that they can freely move between planes, each story must carefully explain why the protagonists either can't or won't just planes-walk away.
  • A Pyramid article on unusual artifacts included the Enigma Van. While it could resemble any mode of transport suitable for the setting (from Conundrum Carriage to Secret Starship), the key points were that it was attracted to mysteries, and once it found one it would break down until the mystery was solved. An obvious Deconstruction of the Mystery Machine. The same series also had the Bloody Typhoid Mary Celeste, a vehicle which was more generally attracted to trouble (and therefore seen as being trouble - it was also very distinctive), but which would likewise break down if the PCs tried to leave before the situation was resolved.
  • In a Ravenloft campaign, a DM can use the Mists to keep players from straying from a certain area (ie, players go into the Mists and emerge in the same place), but doing so is a cheap trick.
    • Moreso, every Darklord has the power to forbid anyone to leave his Domain by raising an inpassable supernatural barrier.
    • Some individual locations within the setting are Closed Circles by their very nature, as with Baron Evensong's one-room study/prison.

  • Used for the basic premise of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, in which the characters are confined to a mansion due to both an inmate from the local asylum being loose and a relative's will stating that they forfeit their inheritance if they leave.
  • Also the premise of The Mousetrap.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit plays with this trope. The characters are only locked in by their own flaws and mediocrity.
  • Wait Until Dark is about a blind woman whose basement apartment becomes her prison when she is targeted by a trio of criminals looking for a misplaced heroin shipment.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: 15 students are trapped inside a prestigious academy by a sadistic Teddy Bear named Monokuma. The only way to escape? Kill one of your classmates, then successfully cover up the crime.
    • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair continues the trend, but this time the students are trapped on a group of islands with no means of escape. There's even a closed circle within a closed circle in Chapter 4, when the students are trapped within a funhouse located on one of the islands.
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has a similar premise to the first, but the students can leave the school building and go outside... whereupon they run into the "End Wall" surrounding the school and the area outside.
  • On the field trip to Barbarossa in Double Homework, the class ends up at a ski lodge with no way out and no way to call for help, with Dennis harassing all of them, and Dr. Mosely/Zeta seemingly in his pocket.
  • Endless Summer revolves around a group of college students, along with their tour guide and pilot, finding themselves trapped on a Caribbean island.
  • In Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, this actually took place prior to the events of the game, in-universe; the village the game takes place in was apparently quarantined in the days leading up to the "Rapture." Plenty of people still tried to escape, with varying results.
  • Exit/Corners revolves around five people trapped in a hotel forced to play an insane mastermind's game. This trope is somewhat Played With because the circle isn't entirely shut off from the outside world (as is usually the case); each captive is granted a device that allows them to send and receive text messages from only one person in the outside world.
  • Gnosia is about a spaceship fleeing from the planet Liu-An and the titular Gnosia Hate Plague when it's revealed that at least one passenger brought on-board during the planet's evacuation is infected with said disease. Due to the high danger of the disease, the ship's AI is programmed to have the ship self-destruct if any Gnosia is detected. The Werewolf (1997)-style voting is agreed upon between the AI and crew as a hasty compromise as the ship makes its journey, effectively leaving them stuck in the ship unless they manage to put the infected into cryostasis.
  • Infinity series:
    • Ever17 revolves around a group of people trapped in an underwater theme park.
    • Remember11 involves two Closed Circle groups. Kokoro, Lin, Yomogi, and Yuni are trapped in a mountain cabin due to bad weather, and Satoru, Utsumi, Hotoru, and Yuni are at the SPHIA psychiatric hospital, which is located on a remote island.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and its first sequel Virtue's Last Reward are set on a cruise liner designed to flood after nine hours, and at an Abandoned Warehouse respectively, both converted to house a series of Deadly Games intentionally designed to test the limits of group mentality. The third game, Zero Time Dilemma, is set in a deliberately created Closed Circle designed for an experiment, which the Big Bad has modified to be even more malicious than the first two.
  • Obduction uses literal Closed Circles: each of the four abducted races is encased in a spherical bubble of force, cut off from each other. Even when you find a way to traverse the force-bubble walls, you only pop out on the opposite side of the same bubble, still confined within it.
  • Queen at Arms has this going on, sort of. Protagonist Marcus is serving in the Ortheran army. Although a few chances come up for her to desert and run away, she is unable to take them. Even if the player has her try, it doesn't work.
  • Raging Loop has this happen to the remote village of Yasumizu every so often, during which feasts are held, and the village is closed off from the rest of the world and has other methods of outside contact removed. The only way out is through the river Saranaga, which is dangerous because it's considered a gate to the underworld, and it's a dangerous rapid even disregarding that.
  • Roman's Christmas The inn that the story takes place in remains snowed in for the course of the story, forcing the guests to remain trapped there as they slowly turn against one another.
  • Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair takes place at the Miyamoto Mountain Resort, which is out in the mountains. None of the cast members have cars or a license, due to their all being ninth graders. Cell phone reception is rather poor in the mountains, and the phone lines end up being early on. As a result, when someone ends up dead, the survivors initially have no way to call for help, and when they do manage to make a call, the authorities take a while to arrive.
  • Nukige Starless is this, for a very cruel reason. The Mamiya mansion is in a very isolated place, to the point where there's supposedly no internet or phone service, it requires a taxi just to reach, and has a gigantic gate with a hyper aggressive guard dog to boot. Even if you did manage to get out, an early plot point is that the unremovable-without-special-tools bracelets they force their employees to wear function as both trackers and stun collars. This is to give the Mamiyas an extra way to avoid trouble for all the illegal stuff they have going on (as it wouldn't be hard to drain their entire extensive fortune strictly through keeping themselves out of prison for a few decades if what they did caught wind), which the protagonists are caught up in.
  • The protagonist Sakurai and his group of friends in Tokyo Chronos are trapped in a loosely quantum physics-based dimension called the Chronos World, where they have no access to outside help and only the bare minimum of food and facilities. The world's purpose is to solve a "mission", in this case to ostensibly discover the culprit behind a murder, and they'll only be able to leave once they've solved it.
  • The characters of Umineko: When They Cry joke about how being trapped on a remote island in a storm feels like an old-fashioned murder mystery — right before the corpses start stacking up.

  • Goro of The Dragon Doctors had to fend off four thieves assaulting a hospital. The first attempt at doing so, activating an ice barrier around the hospital, accidentally locked the thieves in the hospital with her.
  • Mitadake Saga has an automatic lockdown triggered by the death of a teacher. This leaves the students trapped with a murderer. Who just so happens to be one of them...
  • Oddity Woods, "The Demon of Labyrinth Inn": The innkeeper invites his guests to a dinner party, and subsequently locks them inside at the mercy of a demon prowling the halls... except he was lying, and just wants the guests to think they're locked in so they'll get rid of the demon for him... except they actually are trapped in the inn, due to interference from an angry poltergeist.
  • Objectified: Trains running to and from Center Ring are halted as news of a parasitic infection spreads, forsaking the entire city (and everyone inside).
  • The entirety of Problem Sleuth takes place inside a cruelly labyrinthine office building. The main characters spend all 1600+ pages solving its puzzles both in the building and in their imaginary worlds.
  • White Rooms: The white rooms loop, and if you walk in a straight line you always come back to the start. Rits hypothesizes that the exit must not be in the edges, but somewhere in the middle.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: In "A Night at the Inn", Bessie the snail suddenly comes to a stop while pulling Anne and the Plantars back home, forcing them to stay at a bed-and-breakfast that turns out to be run by cannibalistic toads. When they escape the inn, they find that Bessie has a Bear Trap on her tail, and then discover snails belonging to the toads' past victims, also with their tails trapped.
    Sprig: This was all a set-up! They entrap passengers at the inn! We're the "breakfast" in bed-and-breakfast!
    Hop Pop: Yeah, obvie! Let's go!
  • Beast Wars has 5-7 Maximals fighting 5-7 Predacons at Pre-historic Earth. Both factions' spaceships were totaled after the initial crash landing and the massive amount of energon radiation ensured that they could not communicate with any possible rescue parties.
    • They do get the chance to get back several times, but the attempt is foiled each time. For example, the Maximals on Cybertron start sending out transwarp probes all over space and time, looking for Optimus Primal. One of these happens to show up in orbit of prehistoric Earth. The Maximals start building a communication array to contact the probe, but Megatron finds out and has the array destroyed, not willing to go to prison again. Another time, a transwarp wave is sent out from Earth and is intercepted by the Tri-Predacus Council (the rulers of the Predacons). They send a Predacon agent to find Megatron and arrest him but disrupt the wave before it reaches the Maximals. When the agent, a former Decepticon named Ravage, arrives, his ship seems like a way off Earth. it is destroyed at the end of the episode.
  • In the Season 9 premiere of Family Guy, And Then There Were Fewer, a storm has taken out the bridge, stranding everyone in the mansion, there's no cell reception, and the landlines are dead.
  • In the last few episodes of Gravity Falls, during the Weirdmaggedon arc, the town is completely cut off from the rest of the Universe by the formation of a sort of bubble or dome. This is a rare example where this isn't really a bad thing, given the fact that it also keeps Bill Cipher and his hench-maniacs from leaving the area.
  • Most episodes of Scooby-Doo and similar series start this way.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons when the only bridge out of town is destroyed as a meteor is headed straight for them. Conveniently forgetting that Springfield has been shown to be on the ocean, bordered by a desert, a forest, and several other biomes.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "Mystery of a Thousand Moons": People can come to Iego no problem, but the superweapon in the moons destroys any ships that try to leave.