Sunday, March 20, 2022

Orphaned sections and their uses

 Hello gamebookers! If you haven't already voted for the Lindenbaum competition, there are 16 days left, so please vote!

Today, I wanted to list all the uses of orphaned sections. For this post, I'm defining an orphaned section as a section that is not mentioned in any other section. You are never told in the gamebook to turn to it from another section. 

It sounds like orphaned sections wouldn't be needed. I mean, the whole point of a gamebook is to turn to sections, after all? 

Nope, it turns out that there's lots of reasons for them.

To start the book

I suppose you are told to turn to this section at some point in the book, but not from another section. People have to start somewhere, both metaphorically and literally, so the start section has to be an orphaned section for this reason.

To make up numbers

You have finished your gamebook and it's 399 sections long. Maybe you like round numbers, so you stick in a short section that sounds like its something that someone would read, but it's unreachable. There, you now have 400 sections. This is actually true of Fighting Fantasy 1 - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Section 192 is an orphaned section. 

Answers to riddles

Creatures in gamebooks like asking riddles with numbers as answers, which is very convenient because then you can just turn to the section that is the answer. You also have to state that if the section makes no sense, then it's the wrong answer and the return to the original section (or another section with a wrong answer). If you really want a particular riddle, but the answer is bigger than the largest section number or another important section is the answer, you could tell people to multiply the answer by 2 or add X or some other function. 

To represent a word

Maybe your character needs to give a password or someone's name. Well, you can use that as an answer by doing the old A=1, B=2, C=3... trick. This way, you can convert a word into a number.

To prove you have an item

Some gamebook items have numbers associated with them to open up secret sections. These items used to have numbers carved onto them, but some people wanted more creative reasons to have a number associated with an item (I mean, after all, how many of your possessions have numbers carved into them?). For example, being associated with a number (like how many years old it is) or a person or place is associated with it (in which case, use the A=1, B=2 trick). 

If the item has more than once use, then one use could involve its number, one could involve multiplying its number by another number or adding or subtracting another number from it.

If you need 2 secret items, then you could add their numbers (such as in Siege of Sardath with the potions or the rings)

To find out what certain items do

If you have a mystery potion or other item in a gamebook and you want to increase the tension by not telling someone what they do, then you can tell them that they can find out the results by turning to a certain section. This is fun (for the writer) and tense (for the reader).

To find out what certain stat changes do

Some stats are significant if they reach a certain value (usually 0) and if they don't automatically mean death (which sometimes doesn't require its own section), then they will require their own section. To be fair, they still usually mean death, just a different kind of death (such as committing seppuku in Sword of the Samurai or running out of time in Slaves of the Abyss), but sometimes, they might mean something else has happened (such as reducing your Ferocity to 0 in Crimson Tide).

To find out what are in certain places

It can be boring having sections that constantly ask if you want to go left or right or open a door, so one way of saving sections for more interesting things is having maps with section numbers on them, such as in this map from Grailquest 3. 

To be all meta and tell you that you have won without you playing the gamebook

Finally, this little gem, Inside UFO 54-40, mentions that you cannot reach the end in any conventional sense and it is right. The winning section is an orphaned section that you can only read by flicking through the book. Cunning twist, Mr Packard!


  1. Great summary Stuart, thanks. Orphaned sections in all these forms add flavour to a gamebook and can feel like an Easter egg, like you’ve accessed something hidden, a peek behind the curtain. What about adding or subtracting x number when you read a passage, where do you see that kind of mechanic sitting in these categories? I’m thinking like in magehunter when you read something about your scalp tingling you add 10 and you go down some other narrative branch.

  2. There are also 'trap' orphaned sections, which tell the reader off for reading parts of the book that there is no way to reach. For some wacky reason, the solo adventure in Maelstrom has an orphaned loop - a chain of seven paragraphs unreachable from anywhere except within the loop, describing your character endlessly walking along a circular corridor, reading signs that say things like 'Do not read paragraphs that you cannot reach' - as well as a 'you should not be reading this paragraph' paragraph that includes a warning about getting stuck in the loop.

    A few gamebooks have orphaned sections owing to some kind of editorial blunder - The Citadel of Chaos section 258 looks as if it should be accessible from section 3, but there's no way of getting to it. Similarly, there are no directions that lead to page 61 of the Endless Quest book Hero of Washington Square, and the two pages to which it leads cannot be reached via any other route, so I guess you could call them sub-orphans.