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You All Meet in a Cell

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"When will the authorities of Tamriel learn? If you keep locking people up for minor adventure-related crimes, they'll just be surrounded by other adventurers and be more likely to adventure again when they get out."

This is kind of like You All Meet in an Inn, except instead of the protagonists beginning in an inn, they start off in some form of captivity. The characters must then escape imprisonment, and explain to each other (or find out) why they were imprisoned in the first place.

This trope provides the writer with several useful things: an immediate character goal ("get out of here"), a reason for a disparate group who normally wouldn't work together to do so, and time for that squabbling group to actually bond with each other.

Similar to a Closed Circle, and a common way to Gather Characters. Can lead to the Great Escape, Boxed Crook, or Condemned Contestant. May be used to justify a No-Gear Level. Compare Conveniently Cellmates.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Sonic the Comic, Captain Plunder escapes from prison only to discover that his whole pirate crew are now locked in after attempting to break the captain out by a different route. He starts building a new crew from then, starting by recruiting his former cellmate Simpson the Cat.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The "Journey to the Stars" story technically starts on earth and with Wondy and Natasha getting jettisoned into deep space during a sabotaged rescue, however this is mostly to excuse why Wonder Woman of all people is having a long term adventure off world. The arc doesn't really kick off until Wondy and Natasha get captured by the Sangtee Empire where they meet and befriend/ally with a bunch of other captives and then break free and start a revolution that forces the kreel to abolish slavery and legalize female citizens in their empire.

    Fan Works 
  • Vow of Nudity: The prequel story starring Haara's mother begins with the protagonists all in prison for various crimes.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Breakfast Club has a high school variant where a group of students meeting in a detention and becoming friends who otherwise would never have come together. It's practically lampshaded when one character confronts the two "popular" kids about how they will probably go back to treating the others like social outcasts again if they were to meet in the halls with their other friends around.
  • The Cube series has characters meeting after being mysteriously imprisoned for no known reason in a shifting death trap.
  • The Dirty Dozen are all in prison for various crimes. That's why they are picked for the suicide mission, since it's their only hope to avoid a long prison term or death sentence. They don't meet each other there, but we are introduced to them there, as the commander offers each one the mission.
  • Down by Law starts with Tom Waits' character being arrested. The other main characters soon end up in the same cell.
  • The original The Inglorious Bastards has the heroes meeting as U.S. Army prisoners who escape and try to make their way to Switzerland.
  • In Kill Ben Lyk, all of the surviving men named Ben Lyk are locked in the same fortified safehouse by the police.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Captain America: The First Avenger: The soon-to-be Howling Commandos all meet in a HYDRA cell.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) provides a partial example: four of the five members of the titular group encounter each other when two of the group (Rocket and Groot) try to kidnap the third (Peter Quill) for a bounty on his head, while he in turn was fighting with the fourth (Gamora) over the MacGuffin of the movie. Subsequently, all four are sent to the same prison, where they encounter their fifth member (Drax) and realize they need to work together to escape and accomplish their various objectives.
  • The main characters of O Brother, Where Art Thou? meet in a chain gang.
  • Happens in the Saw franchise whenever there's a trial or test involving multiple victims.
    • In the first film, Adam and Lawrence wake up chained to opposing walls in a dingy bathroom. Besides for a hidden key for Adam to escape his shackle, their only means of escape are a pair of hacksaws that aren't enough to cut through their chains, but are enough to cut through the ankles those chains are attached to.
    • In Saw II, a group of eight people wake up in a house (of which the first film's Bathroom is part of) that's slowly filling with poison gas, and have to pass various "trials" to escape with their lives. While six of them are actual victims, one (Amanda) is a Jigsaw apprentice sent in as a watchperson, and another (Daniel) is a teenager who's kept inside the house (and secured by Amanda) as part of preparations for a later test (which is also a partial purpose for the victims).
    • Saw IV's opening trap has two men, one with his eyes sewn shut (Trevor) and the other with his mouth having the same treatment (Art), chained to a winch in a mausoleum that will pull them in and eventually break their necks. Since they can't effectively communicate to free themselves, they have to fight to the death for the key.
    • The so-called "Fatal Five" in Saw V, who were all involved in an arson case in which eight people died, are tested in a catacomb place for their selfishness. While they were meant to work together through various hints, only two of them survive at the end because they were determined to fight each other.
    • Jigsaw has two cases:
      • The first trial involves another group of five people who are tested in a barn, the common denominator among them being that they're all either murderers or otherwise got people killed or condemned to death.
      • The second is a direct recreation of the first, this time involving four people who are informants of Halloran and most of whom bear some resemblance to those of the first. Its existence isn't made clear until a Sequencing Deception regarding the first trial.
  • TRON: Tron, Ram, and Flynn are thrown into adjacent cells on the Game Grid.
  • The Usual Suspects has the five main characters meet during a line-up and plot a job together while waiting in a cell. Verbal notes how artificial this situation is, since line-ups always feature a single suspect and a few decoys. Later they learn that Keyzer Soze engineered the situation specifically so that they would become a criminal unit and do a job for him.

  • In Finder's Bane Joel and Holly (who already knew each other) met Walinda and Jasmine after being captured by clergy of Iyachtu Xvim and had to escape together.
  • The heroes of The Hour Before Morning are cellmates on a starship taking them to execution.
  • Five characters wake up in the title building of William Sleator's House of Stairs, which appears to have no way out.
  • Martin and Gonff meet this way in Brian Jacques' Mossflower.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The original cast of Blake's 7 (with two exceptions, introduced later) were all prisoners being transported to a penal colony on Cygnus Alpha. Blake meets Vila and Jenna in the cell awaiting transport, and Avon and Gan on the prison spaceship in the following episode.
  • The Defenders (2017):
    • Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones meet when Jessica is arrested by Misty Knight and is under interrogation.
    • If a police precinct is considered a cell, the Hand's recent activities lead to a meeting at the 29th Precinct comprised of Matt Murdock, Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Trish Walker, Colleen Wing, Claire Temple, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight.
  • Farscape: the main characters all meet on a prison ship. Specifically, John Crichton meets D'Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel while they're in the midst of trying to break Moya and its Pilot free from Peacekeeper control, with Crichton being thrown out of a wormhole right into the pitched battle between Moya and the Peacekeeper ships trying to re-take it. Peacekeeper Aeryn Sun's ship is accidentally caught up with Moya when it warps away, and she's thrown into a cell alongside John Crichton by the former inmates. By the end of the episode, they've all been forced to work together to avoid being killed by the psychotic Peacekeeper captain pursing them.
  • The Lone Gunmen: While Langly and Frohike were business rivals (they sold bootleg cable), the Gunmen only solidified into a unit once they found themselves in the custody of Baltimore PD for their failed attempt to expose a conspiracy to test a mind-control drug on the unsuspecting public.
  • Robin of Sherwood: Robin's initial band of Merry Men is made up of the prisoners who happened to be in Robin's cell when he and Much were arrested for poaching, who escaped with him (one elderly prisoner refused to leave his pet rat behind, and stayed behind)
  • 'The premise of The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit": An Army major wakes up to find himself trapped inside in a large metal cylinder, along with a hobo, a ballet dancer, a bagpiper, and a clown. None of them have any memory of who they are or how they got there.

  • Ruby Quest starts with the protagonist waking up in a box in a mysterious facility, where she shortly meets Tom, who is in a cell.
  • A Game of Gods starts off with the heroes trapped in a hotel.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Black Crusade has the introductory adventure Broken Chains. It's a fairly standard You All Meet In A Cell, except that a) The cell is part of a huge dilapidated space ship and b) the PCs entirely deserve being in a cell, as the sample characters include an extreme Blood Knight, a scheming Space Marine that was exiled from his own legion, a former Rogue Trader who tried to kill her brother through a daemonic assassin for the inheritance and a Mad Scientist experimenting with fusing daemonic flesh to mortals.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Module A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, which starts out in, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Somewhat justified in that the previous module ended with the PC party being captured by the Slave Lords.
    • Module Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon starts with the characters in jail, kidnapped to be slave workers in an underground salt mine. The module is designed for new players and avoids the standard You All Meet in an Inn opening.
    • Module C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness. The pregenerated PCs meet as they're being taken before the Duke of Urnst. Four of them are convicted criminals and are offered their freedom if they participate in a mission.
    • 5e adventure Out of the Abyss. The players are slaves of the drow, trapped in a fort in the Underdark. The first part of the adventure is how they manage to get out with a prison break.
  • Deadlands example: In the Devil's Canyon adventure, the posse wakes up alone in a cabin in the back country, with no memory of how they got there. Doesn't seem like much of an example, until most of the way through the adventure. Turns out they're all dead. Their "dark half" was in control when they were captured, explaining the amnesia...and how this example fits being held against your will.
  • The 3rd party Pathfinder adventure "Way of the Wicked" starts this way. The PCs are all convicted felons, usually sentenced to die. (It's an evil-aligned adventure.)
  • Variation: one of the adventures in the Tabletop Game HeroQuest involves the player characters waking up inside a cell with all their equipment and items (and somehow, the spellcasters' spells) stolen from them. With the flavor text saying the characters managed to pick the lock with a rat bone, the goal is to find their stolen paraphernalia, then the exit. Played with in that by this point the characters had already been traveling together for several adventures, and that the capture which put them there took place as an unavoidable fate at the end of the previous quest. Another adventure involves breaking into a prison to free a valiant knight who is one of the emperor's most trusted and powerful followers, then escape with him.

    Video Games 
  • 1213, a freeware platformer by Zero Punctuation creator Ben Croshaw, opens with an amnesiac character being allowed to escape his cell.
  • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown: a few missions into the game, the Player Character, callsign: Trigger, is sentenced to prison on charges of assassinating a former president. It is there that they meet their new wingmates in the Spare Squadron, including an anarchist, a gambler, an informant, two Blood Knights, and a woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when war broke out.
  • Arx Fatalis starts the player off in a cell in a goblin fortress with no knowledge of who you are or why you're there.
  • After about an hour or so of prologue in Cuba, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has Protagonist Edward Kenway taken prisoner and locked on a ship bound for Spain as part of the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet. He meets Adéwalé, a fellow prisoner and former slave, and together they break their bounds and use the approaching Hurricane to free a number of other prisoners, commander one of the smaller ships in the fleet and escape just before the Hurricane sinks the fleet. Adéwalé and the others become Edwards crew and the game opens up as they refit the stolen brig as a pirate ship that is used for the remainder of the game.
  • In Baldur's Gate II, finding out why you were imprisoned and experimented upon by the Big Bad is actually a major part of the plot.
  • The Batman: Arkham Series begins this way:
    • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman is escorting the Joker into Arkham Asylum.
    • For Batman: Arkham City, you first get control of Batman when he is in his Bruce Wayne persona in Hugo Strange's custody at the base of Wonder Tower. However, this was all a ruse orchestrated by Batman so that he could get into Arkham City while keeping people from wondering about Wayne's whereabouts during that time; once the Penguin has brought him into the middle of the place, he stops holding back against his attackers and gets to a place where he can have his Batsuit airdropped.
    • The prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, begins with a riot at Blackgate Prison.
  • Cleverly used in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. The tutorial consists of Riddick arriving at the titular prison and promptly making his escape - only to reveal that his escape plan was All Just a Dream, upon which the game begins proper.
  • City of Villains starts with the player's character being freed from a Cardboard Prison by a Big Bad's Faceless Goons.
  • Dark Souls has you start off locked away in the Northern Undead Asylum, where Undead such as yourself are locked away from the world, until a mysterious knight drops a corpse with a key on it into your cell.
  • The intro to Dark Sun: Shattered Lands states that the sorcerer-king of Draj ordered all prisoners to fight as gladiators, and this is how the heroes ended in the arena together. It is never explained what their crimes were and if they knew each other before.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II starts off with you and all your possible companions as prisoners aboard a ship bound for the penal colony of Fort Joy, where anyone capable of using Source magic is incarcerated. Your first order of business is to escape the island, and the party bands together for that express purpose.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Most games in the series start off this way. The Player Character is a Featureless Protagonist (with you getting to choose your appearance, race, and gender) whose actions and personality are entirely up to you. Given the series' Wide-Open Sandbox nature, your character's origins need to be pretty wide-open as well. Your character might be a thieving murdering bastard who got caught, or they might be a paragon of righteousness who was wrongfully imprisoned, or they might not even know themselves. It also serves a symbolic function: once you're released/escaped from the prison you are free to do as you please, both in-character and in gameplay, as being released/escaping from your imprisonment typically serves as the game's tutorial. To note specific examples throughout the series:
    • In Arena, your character is in prison because you had incurred the displeasure of the Big Bad.
    • In Daggerfall, your character suffered a shipwreck and found him/herself washed up in a cave that connected to a dungeon. Not technically a prisoner, but it essentially amounts to the same thing. Daggerfall also provides a biography that explains exactly why the Emperor trusted you with the mission that led to the shipwreck. To not be overly determinative, it has many, many variations depending on class and other choices during character creation, and four of them include the Emperor releasing the PC from prison because they once saved one of his sons.
    • In Morrowind, you start as a prisoner aboard an Imperial ship about to be released. The first spoken words in the game are the daedra Azura speaking to you in a dream, saying: "They have taken you from the Imperial City's prison".
    • Oblivion:
      • In this case, it seems that no one actually knows how the protagonist ended up in that cell. The guards comment that the cell is always supposed to be empty (as it contains a secret escape route into the Imperial City sewers), while the protagonist actually has to ask how they got there. Given the Emperor having visions of your arrival, it's heavily implied that some divine interference is the cause.(Then again, the protagonist does know what the fine for necrophilia is.)
      • At least one mod for Oblivion adds some justification for the protagonist being in jail, if not for being in that particular escape route cell. The mod starts you off in the game world proper, and the main quest does not start until your first arrest and incarceration within the Imperial City. You are then placed in the cell and the questline proceeds from there.
    • Skyrim:
      • Continuing the trend, to the surprise of no one, your character is once again a prisoner. And this time, you're on your way to be executed after being mistaken for a rebel. But don't worry about that, as you get saved by the Big Bad showing up and trying to kill you.
      • The "Live Another Life" Game Mod for Skyrim also starts you off in another cell, specifically an abandoned prison with its own small backstory, where you can choose to start the game as any number of roles and in a number of places... or you can just opt to break out of the cell with no real explanation as to why you're locked up in an abandoned, ghost-filled ruin in the first place, with the whole thing placing a huge lampshade on the situation.
    • The Elder Scrolls Online starts off, once again, in a cell. This time, however, the cell is not in the mortal realm, but in the torture realm of Coldharbor, the domain of Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement. Oh, and did we mention that, technically, you're dead?
  • Escape from Monkey Island began with Guybrush tied to the mast of his own ship, while Elaine and the others repelled a pirate attack.
  • Exile/Avernum begins with the group being thrown into a gigantic underground prison complex together. In later games, the group apparently got together deliberately.
    • You meet everyone in prison. The entire game takes place in that gigantic underground prison complex. Your party, however, was thrown in at the same time, although not necessarily because they were arrested at the same time, in the same place, or for the same reasons.
    • In the second game, the PCs are part of the Avernite armed forces - whether they banded up themselves, or were assigned to each other by the military is left to imagination. In the third game, the situation is similar - only this time, they're the back-up surface explorers acting on behalf of the Avernite government.
  • Fallout 3:
    • As a change from the previous two games (and the eventual third), which all begin with striking out from your Doomed Hometown, Black Isle's canceled game was going to start out with you in a prison cell, until something makes a hole in the wall.
    • The expansion Mothership Zeta starts off like this, and you have to team up with various other abductees who otherwise have nothing in common with you, or each other. One doesn't even speak the same language as the rest of you.
  • First Encounter Assault Recon begins the third game with Point Man being interrogated in prison.
  • Gears of War has Marcus Fenix freed from his jail cell in the beginning of the game by his friend Dom, who also arms him for the incoming Locust.
  • Gothic starts with the hero being thrown into a penal mining colony. The first game takes place entirely in that colony, the second and third have many NPCs you've first met in the colony.
  • Kingdom Hearts II is an unusual case where you start a level in prison, rather than the game itself. Just like the film it's referencing, the "Space Paranoids" section starts with Sora, Donald, and Goofy digitized into a computer and put in its prison after an accident involving "a small, fluffy alien". And just like the film, the title character is already in jail for opposing Master Control and teams up with the gang to break out.
  • Knights of Pen and Paper: How the main campaign kicks off:
    All you know is that you're a group of friends locked up in a Tower Prison for no reason at all and everyone's calling you assassins.
  • The whole point of the Action RPG Legend of Grimrock. Your four characters are literally tossed into the eponymous dungeon for unspecified crimes. If you can get out of the dungeon (in both meanings of the word) you are free to go.
  • Mystic Ark plays with this. Every characters are trapped in some sort of wooden figurines inside an abanddoned mansion. Characters never interact with each other up until you free and put them into your team.
  • In Pirate101 the player starts off in a cell aboard an Armada ship for one of five crimes which is used to determine the player's character class. They meet and rescue their first companion here.
  • Rayman 2: The Great Escape begins with Globox freeing Rayman from a prison cell.
  • In SaGa Frontier, Emelia begins her story in Despair, a supermax prison, wrongfully accused of her fiance's murder. She breaks out accompanied by Anne and Lisa. (Ironically, in anyone else's story, Anne would help you break into Despair during the Rune Quest.)
  • Shadowgate: Del Cottonwood is captured by outlaws and thrown into the dungeon of Castle Shadowgate; the magician Agaar is his nearest cellmate and was similarly imprisoned for no good reason.
  • In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Sly encounters Tennessee for the first time while they're both locked in a jail cell.
  • The eponymous protagonist of the Sonny games wakes up aboard a research vessel out in the middle of nowhere with no memory of what happened prior to that point in time. Escaping the research ship is the first zone of the first game. The second game somewhat inverts this by having the player character and his partner break into a prison after a biker steals a cassette tape from the pair and enter the prison to escape them.
  • The Suffering opens with the main character being checked into his cell on death row at Abbot Penitentiary. Then an earthquake hits, and hideous monsters emerge from the woodwork and start killing people.
  • Tales Of:
    • Early on in Tales of Vesperia the main character, Yuri, is placed in the Imperial City's prison. The person in the cell next to him is a man named Raven, later revealed to be Schwann, a captain of the Imperial Knights. He helps Yuri escape, and several hours of gameplay later he becomes a party member.
    • Similarly, in Tales of Destiny 2 Kyle and Loni first meet Judas after he jumps down from the roof of the prison cell they're in and helps them escape.
  • Trials of Mana: You get your final party member while in a cell in Jadd Stronghold unless you chose Charlotte to be third (in which case the fourth would-be party member will act as an NPC). Different in that you've already played long enough to beat the first boss before you end up in a cell. This trope gets mixed with You All Meet in an Inn within the same town, as every playable character except Carlie appears in that town for their own reasons at the start of the game, just in time for the beastmen to put the whole city on lockdown.
    The trope gets parodied as well since the cell doesn't actually hold the party up; a dimwitted beastman comes in and immediately gets pulled into freeing the party, followed by being locked in the cell himself in retaliation. Best variant being Angela who flaunts her... female assets.
  • Unreal begins with the player's character regaining consciousness after the ship, which was transporting him/her to a prison planet, crashes on Na Pali, killing (almost) every other passenger and conveniently enabling the player's escape.
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has the tutorial as Geralt explaining to his captor how he got there.
  • Zero Escape: Both Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and its first sequel, Virtue's Last Reward have a variation of this, where the protagonists wake up in an unfamiliar location and have to figure out why they're there and how to escape. Though in both games, some of the characters already knew each other prior to the events of the game. Taken to its Logical Extreme in the third game, Zero Time Dilemma, which starts off with its cast being locked in actual prison cells.

    Web Comics 
  • Seems to be a trend for Dubious Company's pirates. Walter and Tiren meet when she wakes up in his brig. They meet Elly while breaking out of Barry's brig. Sal introduces herself to Tiren in Izor's bastille. Leeroy is introduced when he mistakes the pirates for Sal's captors, instead of her rescuers. They even meet the Sues and Stus while breaking out of the bastille.
  • Goblin Hollow, at the beginning of the D&D game storyline:
    "You All Meet in an Inn..."
    "Okay, smart guy. You all meet in an inn... and wake up the next morning in the county jail."
  • Jailbreak starts off this way, not surprisingly. Problem Sleuth does, too, though it's not obvious at first.
  • Last Res0rt — it's about a bunch of criminals (and a few volunteers) on a reality show. Of course it's held in a prison!
  • A variation of this is played out in the first half of chapter 2 of Monster Soup. It starts with Bo the zombie sitting alone with Chickpea the (zombie) squirrel near a pier. Eventually, Amanita the gypsy/medium, Jacklynn the ghost, Luke the vampire, and Pepper the werewolf show up. They actually meet where they will embark on the boat that will take them to the prison, not in a cell, but they are clearly not really free to leave.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In Animaniacs, Rita and Runt first meet in the city pound.
  • Two episodes of Adventure Time begin this way:
    • "Return to the Nightosphere": Finn and Jake are in a cage in the Nightosphere, and spend the rest of the episode trying to get back home.
    • "Mystery Dungeon": Ice King, Tree Trunks, Lemongrab, NEPTR and Shelby wake up in a dungeon and try to get to the center room. It turns out Ice King was using them to get to a wizard trapped in the center of the dungeon, so he would bring his Fan Fic to life.
  • An interesting inversion happens in Generator Rex episode "Promises, Promises" which details exactly how Rex came to join Providence. Throughout most of the episode, Bobo Haha interacts with the other main characters from his cage, first meeting Rex when the latter was brought in, and later helping Doctor Holiday escape from the same cage they were both locked inside of. It is slightly averted with Agent Six; whom the two of have met beforehand already.
  • Justice League Unlimited: In "Task Force X", Lawton and Flag meet in Death Row. Then they met the rest of the Suicide Squad at an Abandoned Warehouse. Lawton can believe he could do the job and leave. He is a Boxed Crook and for five years, anywhere he is, he would be in a cell.
  • In Muzzy in Gondoland, Muzzy and Bob meet in a prison cell.
  • Samurai Jack: The episode "Jack and the Smackback" starts with Jack getting captured and taken to a fighting arena where he's placed in a cell next to another trapped participant.