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The Three Trials

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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.



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  • Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge has the Three Trials of Soloho - Marksmanship, Courage and Skill.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo has the Merovingians set 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.

    Action Adventure 
  • Present in level 6 of Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening. 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.
  • A staple of numerous Zelda games from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past onwards, in which going to three dungeons to collect three items is usually the initial quest of the game. To elaborate:
  • 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.

  • Back to the Future: The Game: About half the episodes feature this. For example, the three demeanors in Ep. 3: "Citizen Brown".
  • The last 3 puzzles in the first Dark Fall game, even called such in the backstory. The first one is solved by finding a set of colors and inputting them in a certain order; the second via matching the 4 elements to sounds you hear in said trial. The third relies on a sequence of sounds in the room with the trial.
  • 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.
    • Hoagie needs to find power to his Chron-O-John in the 1800s. This involves finding the blueprint for a super battery, components to build said battery, and managing to charge the finished product.
    • Bernard needs to find a replacement diamond. Or rather, managing to change history so that the Edisons become rich, find the safe code and order one.
    • Laverne needs to escape from a tree, escape from tentacle jail, find a disguise and in the end power on her Chron-O-John.
  • 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 union 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.
    • And in episode 2, to get Hector out of the ruined building, you need to find some explosives, a fuse and a means to light the fuse.
  • Another Adventure Game example from The Journey Down: to get your Seaplane running in the first chapter, you need to get three components.
  • 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).
  • Monkey Island uses this one a lot.
    • The trope namer is the Three Trials in The Secret of Monkey Island: to become a full-fledged mighty pirate, Guybrush will need to prove his skills at sword-fighting by finding and beating the Sword Master of Melee Island, prove his skills at thievery by stealing the Idol of Many Hands from the Govenor's mansion, and prove his skills at treasure-hunting by finding the Treasure of Melee Island.
    • 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 LeChuck so you can escape the tunnels beneath Dinky Island (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).
    • In Escape from Monkey Island, Guybrush has to prove his innocence on Lucre Island by finding and retrieving the stolen loot, find the real perpetrator, and finding 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.
    • In Tales of Monkey Island chapter 1, "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal", Guybrush has to get information from news-starved journalist Davey Nipperkin about a person that can help get him off Flotsam Island, so Guybrush has to board a ship, find a treasure, and start a fight so Nipperkin will have something to write about.
      • In "The Siege of Spinner cay", Guybrush has to find three golden holy items hidden around the Jerkbait Islands.
      • In "Lair of the Leviathan", Guybrush has to join the Brotherhood of the Manatee by impressing de Cava's four former crew members... though Moose always votes the same as his pal Santino, despite him being a skeleton. Later in the chapter you have to interrogate de Cava's crew in order to figure out where the manatee-speaking device is. Again Moose always sides with Santino, lowering it back down to three... but Bugeye cracks the instant you ask him, lowering it down to two.
      • "The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood" 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 crimes, though, since one is such an obvious lie that all you have to do is press the plaintiff on the obvious lie three times.
      • "Rise of the Pirate God" 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Used in every Telltale Games adventure ever, at least Once an Episode. Flat-out Lampshaded in Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space: Moai Better Blues.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People:
    • In "Homestar Ruiner" Strong Bad, in order to get Homestar out of his house, must clear Homestar 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 inflicted on Homestar by an earlier set of Three Trials (stealing Homestar's clothes, stealing the head from Marzipan's float, and entering the Race to the End of the Race disguised as Homestar).
    • Parodied in "Strong Badia the Free"; 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. The same game also plays it straight with the Induced Hypochondria puzzle, where you have to make Strong Sad think he's got "acute aphasic pretendicitis" by simulating the three main symptoms of the disease.
    • 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 pulling three pranks 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.

    Massively Multiplayer Online Game 
  • World of Warcraft: Legion:
    • In Stormheim, before you can visit the Halls of Valor, you need to pass three trials, all of which Skovald perverts in some way, The Trial of Might (best Yotnar in combat, Skovald instead tears him apart), The Trial of Will (have the Thorgnir accept you, Skovald enslaves them), and the Trial of Valor (have the ancient vrykul leaders accept you, Skovald has the bone keepers made to accept him)
    • In Val'sharah you need to find 3 Archdruids to help purify Cenarius, but you have to kill one of them after he is corrupted by Xavius, and thus it fails, setting up the rest of the storyline.

  • 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.
  • An unspoken Three Trials sequence takes up most of the latter half of Psychonauts, once Raz gains access to the asylum. He must acquire three items - a straitjacket, an acting trophy, and a portrait of Dr. Loboto - to cobble together a disguise that will fool the short-sighted 'orderly' into thinking he's Loboto and letting him use the elevator that will take him to the upper levels. These items are in the possession of three of the asylum's four remaining patients (the fourth had already been dealt with on the way in), and must have their mental problems solved via Journey to the Center of the Mind before they'll hand them over. As usual, the patients' minds are full levels, and may be done in any order; and yes, this is the only way, as the 'orderly' is immune to all of Raz's psychic powers (Hand Waved as being some sort of protection offered by Loboto). The presence of this trope should come as no surprise given creator Tim Schafer's previous experience with adventure games, including Monkey Island.
    • Shows up again in Psychonauts 2. The second act of the game revolves around repairing Ford Cruller's shattered mind, which is done by tracking down three of his teleporting split personalities working at Psychonauts HQ - in the mailroom, the bowling alley and the hair salon - and jumping into their minds to recover fragments of the original Ford's sense of self (assuming the form of shards of a broken mirror). Just like in the first game, the fragments can be recovered in any order; Barber Ford's fragment can be recovered immediately, while Mailroom Ford and Bowling Ford's fragments require some setup first (as they are both locked behind doors they won't open without permission from a superior and a Senior Bowling League membership card, respectively).

    Role-Playing Game 
  • In the second Avernum game you have to complete three trials (Strength, Speed and Patience) in order to become a member of the Vahnatai tribe. However, earlier in the there are three opportunities to do things that aid the Vahnatai (recover a spell book, awaken Vahnatai in suspended animation and honoring one of the crystal souls) and for each one of these you have done you are counted as having already completed one trial.
  • 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.
  • 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, 2) save the lord's son, then 3) save the lord himself.
  • 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.
  • Mass Effect 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.
  • Yaga does this several times, seeing as it is based on slavic folklore where the trope is overused.
    • The Tzar gives Ivan three impossible tasks to serve as the main plot of the game: Find Strength without Measure, Bottled Youth and The most beautiful bride
    • Maria Morevna asks of Ivan to do three tasks as well, dealing with returning to previous areas to settle their conflicts. She also asks for three cauldrons to be forged at the Golden Anvil, but they are all made at once.
    • If one wishes to marry Maria, they must once again pass three trials, dealing with being submerged in the three cauldrons and surviving if they have the requisite artifact to tie to that stat: The Golden Apple for Body, Bottled Youth for Mind and Likho's Ring (or eye) for Luck. Notable is that the Tzar must do them and will most likely fail since Baba Yaga strongly encourages you to not give him the real artifacts. If the player chooses to give him the real artifacts, he will pass (he will ask for the ring, but not the eye), but also if the player keeps all the real artifacts for themselves they can pass the trials and marry Maria.

  • Death Road to Canada has three trials in the final stretch, all of them loaded with zombies. First is "Close to the Border", a 1.5 hour siege (90 seconds in real time) in a cramped location. Second is "City of Crushed Hopes", another siege, this one 4 hours which is 4 agonizing minutes in real time. Finally, third is an actual fight at the border where your team must fight their way across a bridge and then assist the RCMP in holding the zombies off until their backup arrives.
  • 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.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Battle for Wesnoth: In The Rise of Wesnoth, upon arriving in the Great Continent, Haldric is given four tasks to do (read: four scenarios to play) by the elvish council, which can be done in any order as long. The story progresses once all four scenarios are completed.

Non-video game examples:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Parodied in Soul Hunter: when Youzen first encounter Taikoubou, he's reluctant to recognize his leadership, especially after the fiasco resulting in the creation of the Snake Pit and the death of so many innocents, so he forces Taikoubou to undergo three trials... with the last one being improvised, as he never thought Taikoubou would be able to pass the first two. Said trials include attacking him while transformed into Dakki to test his tactical acumen and cold blood (Taikoubou is able to see through his disguise), pull an Hostage Situation with Taikoubou's mount Supushan to force him to fight (Taikoubou points out that this conflict is useless and guesses that Supu's not in real danger). Finally, he has him help some refugees getting through a guarded pass to reach Seiki (Taikoubou passes by pretending to side with the guards out of spite for Youzen's arrogance, which result in Youzen actually helping the refugees pass unharmed and with only Taikoubou's hurt, showcasing his cunning and his willingness to sacrifice himself to help others).

    Fan Works 
  • The Ultimate Evil: Those who want to inspect the Book of Ages must first pass the Guardian's three tests. When Valerie Payne enters the temple, the Guardian tests her heart first through touch. He then tests her mind by turning his staff into an inland taipan, which she realizes is only an illusion since the Guardian's shadow is holding just his staff. And lastly, he tests her spirit by having her look into his fire and see something. With the tests passed, Valerie is allowed to go to the Book, at which point Shendu (who has hidden himself from the Guardian) retakes over her body and rewrites history before the Chans arrive too late to stop him.

  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: To reach the Holy Grail, Indy must get past three traps: The Breath of God,note  the Word of God,note  and the Path of God.note 
  • 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."
  • 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." We never learn what the other two tests were.

  • Crops up in The Dresden Files novel Skin Game; Harry and company must pass three "gates" in order to break into Hades' vault.
  • Hilda: In order to see the Elf Prime Minister in Hilda and the Hidden People, Hilda has to pass three tests; the test of courage (which involves having to face the Prime Minister’s cavalry), the test of skill (which involves having to navigate a narrow, slippery path into the caves of kismet), and the Test of Exceptional Braininess (where Hilda has to figure out in which of two caves the Prime minister is, by asking two water spirits a single question which one will answer truthfully and the other will answer with a lie).
  • Nettle And Bone: The dust-wife sets Marra three Impossible Tasks to win her aid in killing The Evil Prince. However, she's genuinely hoping for Marra to fail and leave, and when Marra shows enough self-destructive determination to complete the first two, she lets Marra skip the third and agrees to help.
  • 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 Trial" episode of Angel has Angel going through three Death Trap trials in order to save Darla from dying of syphilis.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Starting in strip #324, The Order of the Stick must go through three trials, one each of Body, Mind, and Heart, in order to see an Oracle. 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, so the Oracle doesn't get sued if someone dies of shock from hearing an Awful Truth or an otherwise unpleasant prophecy.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: "The King of Omashu" sees the titular king hold Team Avatar captive until Aang completes three trials. Turns out there was one extra item at the conclusion of the trials, where the king challenged Aang to figure out his name...which he does in a matter of minutes.
  • Dora the Explorer lives this trope. Every episode has three obstacles to get past before they reach their goal.
  • An episode of Mighty Max was built around his bodyguard having to pass three contests against an ancient champion to renew his immortality for another ten thousand years.
  • Steven Universe:
    • In "Serious Steven", the Gems find a series of hallways that each lead to a set of three trapped rooms. The thing is, each set of rooms leads back to the center chamber somehow, and the Gems can't find the right one. Steven figures out that the rooms are actually moving around by a hidden mechanism, and they're a decoy to protect the inner sanctum of the temple and its power source.
    • In "The Test", the Gems set up a series of three tests for Steven, who's worried he needs to prove himself as a Crystal Gem after being reminded of the disastrous events of "Cheeseburger Backpack". The tests turn out to be rigged in Steven's favor, but when Steven overhears the Gems discussing their own worries about being good parental substitutes for Steven, he doesn't have the heart to expose their ruse.