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The Three Trials

A common trope in Adventure Games where the hero must achieve three specific goals in order to advance the plot. Bob may want to fight the dragon and save Alice right now, but the giant lizard safety inspector has made it clear that he must first find a magic shield from the haunted forge, a spray can of dragon repellent from the future, and a helmet in spite of the mad king's ban on headwear. Whether true or not, the hero is almost always given the impression that the tasks may be completed in any order.

In linear adventures, it'll often turn out that inventory acquired in pursuit of quest object A is required to attempt to get quest item B. In the worst-case, the trope devolves into a fetch quest submitted in triplicate.

Although mainly a video game trope, the narrative power of Three invokes this often enough in other media.

These Questions Three uses questions in place of challenges. Compare Plot Coupon and Threshold Guardians.


  • Trope namer, the Three Trials in The Secret of Monkey Island: Swordplay, thievery and treasure-huntery.
    • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge has a variation in four trials per act. To get a Voodoo Doll you need four items - "something of the head, something of the thread, something of the body and something of the dead". You have to do this twice in the game, once early on for Largo so you can leave Scabb Island, and once towards the end for Le Chuck so you can escape the basement (using different items in different areas). Between these, you also have to get the four map pieces, which is way more convoluted than it sounds.
    • Done several times in The Curse of Monkey Island: First you need to find a map, a ship and a crew (of 3) in the second act. Then in the fourth act you need to find a ring, a diamond, and a means of removing a cursed ring ( hand lotion).
    • And again in Escape from Monkey Island, where Guybrush has to prove his innocence by finding and retrieving the stolen loot, find the real perpetrator, and find a piece of evidence that ties him to the crime...and later on when Guybrush has to find the three pieces of the Ultimate Insult (a bronzed hat, a golden man, and a silver monkey head) on Jambalaya Island.
      • Played with in the Melee Island segment at the start. Guybrush is told that he'll need a crew, one of which will have to be a navigator. The other two, Carla and Otis, are recruited at the same time by the same method, and the actual third trial turns out to be requisitioning a ship.
    • And yet again in the first chapter of Tales of Monkey Island, when Guybrush has to board a Ship, find a treasure and start a fight so a journalist gives Guybrush information on a person that can get him off the island he is in when he has a story to write about in his newspaper.
      • And yet, yet again in the second episode, where Guybrush has to find three golden holy items hidden around the Jerkbait Islands...and the third episode, where Guybrush has to win the votes of the four members of the pirate brotherhood... (No, our math isn't off. One of the members always votes the same as his pal.)
      • The fourth episode changes up this trope a bit by charging Guybrush with four crimes to get himself acquitted from, followed by someone remarking "I thought there would be three", and then with having to find six voodoo ingredients. It might as well be three cimres, though, since one is such an obvious lie that all you have to do is press the plaintiff on the obvious lie three times.
      • The third episode mixes it up a bit. After getting their votes and holding them hostage, you have to interrogate them in order to figure out where the manatee-speaking device is. One of them always sides with another, lowering it back down to three... but another one cracks the instant you ask him, lowering it down to two.
      • The fifth episode references the trope namer itself with each of the three possible pirate afterlifes being based on one of the tree trials: Swordfights, treasure hunting, or thievery. The challenges Guybrush must complete in each realm also fit the trope.
  • Present in level 6 of Devil May Cry 3. You are presented with three challenges, representing strength, skill and intelligence. Passing one of them gives you nothing, passing two opens the way to the end of the level and passing all three nets you the Artemis gun.
  • Used in every Telltale Games adventure ever, at least Once an Episode. Flat-out Lampshaded in the Sam & Max Beyond Time And Space: Moai Better Blues.
  • Parodied in Episode 2 of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. Homsar tells Strong Bad that he'll only join him after he completes the "three ancient tasks of great boredom", but very quickly admits that he was only joking. It's played straight in a few other episodes, though:
    • In "Homestar Ruiner" Strong Bad, in order to get Homestar out of his house, must clear him of the public nudity charge against him, get him back together with Marzipan, and make him the winner of the Race to the End of the Race. Note that each of these is undoing the damage that an earlier set of Three Trials inflicted on Homestar.
    • In "Baddest of the Bands" Strong Bad must get three bands to sign up for his "Battle Royale of the Bands": he has to get Coach Z and Bubs to re-form their rap duo (which itself requires doing three things to convince Bubs that Coach Z is still "hardcore"), get Homestar a job singing with Pom Pom, and convince Marzipan to enter her band Cool Tapes in the contest instead of playing a benefit for an endangered albino bat. Then once the contest starts, Strong Bad must sabotage all three of the other bands.
  • Back to the Future: About half the episodes feature this. For example, the three demeanors in Ep. 3: "Citizen Brown".
  • Day Of The Tentacle, the entire game between the prologue and the endgame. Interestingly done in that each task is set in its own time period and pursued by a different character.
  • Peasant's Quest: You have to stink like a peasant, dress like a peasant, and be on fire like a peasant before the knight will let you go fight Trogdor. And then there are the three guardians who ask you questions outside Trogdor's lair and give you the equipment you need.
  • Grim Fandango Year 2 is built around one of these. Manny must acquire unionised worker bee equipment for Glottis (and sober up his sidekick in the process), forge a maritime uninion membership for himself (and steal from a major mafia boss in the process), and finally prevent a ship's cook from showing up for work (and dig through giant kitty litter in the process).
  • In the first episode of Hector: Badge of Carnage, Hector meets the three demands of the terrorist: fixing the clock tower, destroying the porn shop, and funding the town beautification project.
  • Tends to show up in Baldur's Gate a lot.
  • King's Quest I follows this pattern pretty straight, with the three treasures as a magic chest, a magic shield, and a magic mirror. (The difference being in KQI, the treasures are required to win the game, not just to solve the first quest).
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see."
  • Mass Effect 1 has three planets that must be visited to unravel Saren's schemes: Therum, Noveria and Feros. These may be visited in any order, and after two of them are cleared a lead also appears on a fourth planet, Virmire.
  • Much of the middlegame of Dragon Age: Origins revolves around gaining support for the Grey Wardens by bringing old treaties to various leaders. There are three treaties — one for the elves, one for the dwarves, and one for the mages — and you can visit the three groups in any order. There is a fourth one though that's unrelated to the treaties, the Castle Redcliffe that Alistair believes will be able to assist. Naturally, none of these four people are able to help you right off the bat, and you have to save their asses before they'll help you.
    • At Redcliffe specifically, you have to 1) save the village's ass, 2) save the lord's son's ass, then 3) save the lord's ass.
  • Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge has the Three Trials of Soloho - Marksmanship, Courage and Skill.
  • The main quest of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind can be solved after acquiring three things - the two artifacts the sword Keening and the hammer Sunder and a means of wielding them for more than a second without dying.
    • The straightforward path to the third requirement is getting Vivec to give you the gauntlet Wraithguard; the backdoor method is killing Vivec, stealing the item, and asking Yagrum Bagarn to fashion the Left Wraithguard (sometimes called the "Backhand"); generally, as the seven minute speedrun of Morrowind proves, the game isn't picky about how you can hold the weapons for any realistic length of time as long as you live through it.
  • NetHack has many sets of three trials. First you must acquire the Bell of Opening, the Candelabrum of Invocation, and the Book of the Dead; to collect these items, you have to visit and kill special monsters - your role's Quest Nemesis, Vlad the Impaler, and the Wizard of Yendor. Secondly, you must travel to the bottom of the dungeon, find the vibrating square, and perform the three-part Invocation Ritual with these items. Lastly, to complete the over-arcing The Three Trials you must take the Amulet of Yendor up to the Astral Plane, identify your alignment's High Altar, and sacrifice it up to your deity.
  • Turgor has one of the brothers announce you will be given three trials to determine your worthiness, given one after another. However, the second trial is failed before you even start it.
  • In Quest for Glory III, the rite of manhood for Uhura's tribe involves three contests: spear-throwing, a balance beam "fight", and a footrace (though there are "mini-contests" within the footrace as well).
  • A staple of numerous Zelda games from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past onwards. To elaborate:
  • Diablo II Act 2 and 3 require you to track down three magical artifacts to combine into a weapon that'd open the way to the endboss. Technically there were four items in the third act, but the last one was obtained right next to where you needed to use them.
  • Explicitly stated in Epic Mickey, on Mickeyjunk Mountain. The guard will only let you through to meet Oswald if you pass The Three Trials, in the form of levels based on Oswald The Lucky Rabbit films. After that, there's an example that isn't stated, but is much broader in scope. You have to go to three different lands, and defeat the bosses of each in order to get a piece of them needed for an escape rocket.
  • Another Adventure Game example from The Journey Down: to get your Seaplane running in the first chapter, you need to get three components.
  • The Matrix Path Of Neo has the Merovingians three trials that Neo has to pass to escape the chateau. The first is escaping an M.C. Escher type maze, the second trial is fighting your way through a club of vampires and the third is a fight with the Witch Queen to finally escape.

Non-video game examples:

  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: To reach the Holy Grail, Indy must get past three traps: The Breath of Godnote , the Word of Godnote , and the Path of Godnote .
  • In Mortal Kombat: Annihilation Nightwolf tells Liu Kang he must pass three tests before he can defeat Shao Kahn. The first test is courage, which apparently involves having a hatchet thrown at your head to induce a "dream-state." You never learn what the other two tests were.

  • In almost every Xanth book, someone will go to the Good Magician's castle to get information, where they will have to get past three challenges of varying nature before he will see them. Typically, the first challenge is something chosen to keep out anybody but his expected visitor and is harmless except to somebody willfully stupid, the second is a static barrier with a hidden way in, and the third (now that it's just as hard to get out again) is something picked to be lethal to anybody who makes it this far but in an environment which can be used against it.

Live-Action TV
  • The later half of Supernatural season 8 revolves around three trials required to permanently seal the gates of Hell. There's an unspecified unpleasant fate for whoever completes them, but Sam volunteers anyway. His reasoning is that wanting a normal life gives him a better shot at surviving than someone treating it as a Suicide Mission. Step one: kill a Hell Hound and bathe in its blood. Step two: rescue an innocent from Hell. Step three: "cure" a demon.
  • In Lost In Oz, to open Horn's Gate, the heroes must answer three riddles. Selina answers the first two and Alex answers the third.

Web Comics
  • Starting in strip #324, the Order of the Stick must go through three trials, one each of Body, Mind, and Heart. The Trial of Body is defeating a hydra, which the team does by chopping off so many heads that it passed out from not having enough blood to supply oxygen to the heads that regenerated. The Trial of Mind is a Knights and Knaves riddle; Haley bypasses it by shooting one of the guards in the foot and seeing how they respond. The Trial of Heart is a medical exam.

Western Animation
  • Dora the Explorer lives this trope. Every episode has three obstacles to get past before they reach their goal.

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