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"In Oblivion, you start off in a dungeon in the imperial palace. You're never told what crime you committed, I guess you're supposed to fill in that blank for yourself so I chose to believe I was in there for shagging the emperors wife and daughter at the same time while playing a rock guitar solo on the desecrated corpse of God."
This is kind of like You All Meet in An Inn, except instead of the players beginning in a inn, they start off in some form of captivity for no apparent reason. The characters must then escape imprisonment, and find out why.
The theme in RPGs and writing is that imprisonment is instant motivation ("get out of here"), and that they can work out the details of why later. It also gives reason why people who wouldn't normally like each other are pulling together. 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. In Tabletop Games, You All Meet in a Cell usually goes poorly, as the characters have no reason to stick together once they escape their confinement, and often don't. At least when You All Meet in An Inn, any character who isn't inclined to join up with the group will leave immediately, instead of one or two sessions in.
Anime And Manga
- In Record of Lodoss War, the team meets Woodchuck the thief in prison after they're arrested.
- Down By Law starts with Tom Waits' character being arrested. The other main characters soon end up in the same cell.
- The main characters of O Brother, Where Art Thou? meet in a chain gang.
- The Usual Suspects has the variant of "You all meet in a police line-up."
- The original The Inglorious Bastards has the heroes meeting as U.S. Army prisoners who escape and try to make their way to Switzerland.
- The Dirty Dozen are all in prison for various crimes, that's why they are picked for the suicide mission, it's their only hope to avoid a long prison term or death sentence. They don't meet there but we meet them there as the commander offers each one the mission.
- The Cube series has characters meeting after being mysteriously imprisoned for no known reason in a shifting death trap"
- Many times in the Saw-verse
- 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.
- Martin and Gonff meet this way in Brian Jacques' Mossflower.
- Alec and Seregil in Nightrunner.
- Five characters wake up in the title building of William Sleator's House of Stairs, which appears to have no way out.
- The protagonists of Raymond E. Feist's Shadow of a Dark Queen meet just before they're all sent to the gallows.
Live Action TV
- The original cast of Blakes Seven (with one exception, introduced later) were all prisoners on a prison ship.
- Farscape: the main characters of all meet on a prison ship. They then make off with said prison ship and run around the galaxy.
- 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.
Tabletop RP Gs
- Advanced Dungeons and 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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!
- Jail Break starts off this way, not surprisingly. Problem Sleuth does, too, though it's not obvious at first.
- Twelve Thirteen, a freeware platformer by Zero Punctuation creator Ben Croshaw, opens with an amnesiac character being allowed to escape his cell.
- 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.
- In Baldur's Gate 2, finding out why you were imprisoned and experimented upon by the Big Bad is actually a major part of the plot.
- Most The Elder Scrolls games start off with this. As the protagonist is always a Featureless Protagonist (or rather Choose Your Own Age, Face, Gender, etc) whose actions and personality are entirely up to you and with the Elder Scroll games being so open-ended, your character's origins have to be open-ended, too. 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.
- In The Elder Scrolls: Arena, your character is in prison because you had incurred the displeasure of the Big Bad.
- In The Elder Scrolls II: 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 amounts to the same thing.
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind you start as a prisoner aboard an imperial ship, you are 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".
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you're just someone who apparently nobody recognizes in a prison cell for no reason ever revealed. It's implied you were teleported there by a god. Lampshaded when one of your first dialogue options is, effectively, "Why am I in prison?" (implying that not even the character knows how he/she got there), to which the response can best be paraphrased as "Who knows? Maybe it was the work of the Gods?"
- To the surprise of none, you begin your adventures in Skyrim as a prisoner...and 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 trying to kill you.
- Escape from Monkey Island began with Guybrush tied up to the mast of his own ship, while Elaine and the others repelled a pirate attack.
- Fallout 3: Escaping the previous idea of striking out from your Doomed Hometown, Black Isle's canceled game was going to start out with you held in a prison cell.
- 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.
- In the original Fallout 3 (Van Buren) you started off as something tore a hole in wall of your cell.
- City of Villains starts with the player's character being freed from a Cardboard Prison by a Big Bad's Faceless Goons.
- Rayman 2: The Great Escape begins with Globox freeing Rayman from a prison cell.
- Seiken Densetsu 3. You get your final party member while in a cell in Castle City Jad unless you chose Carlie 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.
- Interestingly, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Legerdemain. You start the game in "The Jails of the Doobah Boogadah II", and the beginning of the game involves breaking out.
- 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.)
- 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 your last party member.
- Riven's gameplay begins with the player witnessing a struggle from withing a prison cell, after which the cell is opened.
- Practically the plot of the first Riddick game, starting off with our man in restraints being transferred to the game's titular prison planet in a drop shuttle. 'Course, he meets a lot of people, but none of them really stay alive, and guess how long he stays in the cell?...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 whole point of the Action RPG 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. Too bad no one has done so yet...
- 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.
- In Animaniacs, Rita and Runt first meet in the city pound.