James Bond’s best ability is having enemies who place him in overly elaborate, easily escapable deathtraps. Indiana Jones always finds a way out – in fact, by the third movie there’s a joke about it. The Doctor only ever goes to places where there’s an adventure waiting.
The lucky chances characters get are really just part of who those characters are – they’re a trademark, no less so than the equipment they carry or the attributes they possess.
In an RPG, having “luck” come from the GM feels lame. But if the players get to tell the GM what kind of luck they want their characters to have, then it reveals something about who they want to play and what kind of game they want.
A technique that encourages this act of “luck-definition” is called The Daring Escape.
Give them a strongly defined First Encounter with a lot of danger and excitement – say, a caper. Provide challenging rolls and lots of opportunities to be challenged as roleplayers. Inevitably danger mounts, the party gets into trouble, and needs an exit plan. As you reach the climactic moment (they’re running out of the temple with the idol while a horde of natives chases them), ask them, “how do you make your escape?”
Then they’re free (and this might scare them a little) to bring something into the game that doesn’t rely on dice or any details you’ve described – that they have a plane idling nearby, that they spot a truck with the keys still in it, that trust old so-and-so comes by in the nick of time with a hot air balloon.
Of course, players shouldn’t be allowed to ask for stuff that makes it easy on themselves. But they should be allowed to tell you what kind of challenges they want to face. Asking a metagame question like, “how are your characters going to escape?” simply lets them choose what kind of encounter they want next.
If they say they have a plane, make it challenging with some fisticuffs on the wings while they try to take off. If they say they’re stealing a truck, give them a chase scene with bumpy roads and flying lead. If they say they’re escaping in a hot air balloon, a desperate rush to throw out enough weight before the natives grab on could add some humor and roleplaying.
The purpose is the same – the party escapes from the Mob after a successful (or not so successful) caper. But the means is left up to them, which lets them tell you what kind of characters they’re playing and what kind of adventures they go on: whether they’re characters who plan ahead (the plane), who make it up as they go (the truck), or who have helpful supporting NPCs (the balloon).