Dozens and Dragons

magic words

bibliomantic generation of spells and grimories




  1. Contents
  2. Preface
  3. Magic Words
  4. Mixing and Matching
  5. Cut-up
  6. Word analysis
  7. Grimories
  8. Appendix: Other Grimories
  9. Resources


This is a response of sorts to Spell lists suck. Here are some magic words. by LS Whelan of (Links to references can be found below.)

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how you can use bodies of text to create random spells and magical effects.

Magic Words

The core argument of the original post, which resonates well with me, is that spell lists can feel static, boring, and altogether unmagical.

They can make magic feel mundane. Habitually perusing your spell list for something you think will be reliable and useful the next day does not create a sense of wonder and awe.

I enjoy it much more when magic feels unpredictable, unreliable, a little bit dangerous, and a little bit untamed.

LS’s initial solution, which I will refer to later as Solution 1, is to allow remixing known spells. The canonical examples are “fairy fire” and “unseen servant”, which yield novel combinations like “unseen fire” and “fairy servant”.

This is neat!

Pulling at this thread a little more reveals Solution 2, which is the fact that you can source your “magic words” not just from existing spell lists, but from nearly anywhere.

This is where bibliomancy1 factors in.

Mixing and Matching

Solution 1, if you squint your eyes until your vision blurs, looks kind of like just re-discovering random tables.

Which is fine. Lots of systems use random tables to generate magical effects with varied to great results.

I’m going to pause here only long enough to share a mix-and-match alchemy system that I love and that I am using in my current campaign with my artificer.

It is the Naively Simple Alchemy system from, and it works like this:

  1. Basically any creature or substance can be rendered into an oil (an adjective) or a powder (verb/noun).
  2. An oil and a powder can be combined into a potion using a catalyst and alchemy supplies.

That’s basically it.

The catalyst provides a thematic effect in the same way that grimories do as described below. And the oil and powder provide the potion’s main effect.

Here’s what my artificer so far has had the opportunity to discover:

creature oil (adj) powder (n/v)
brackish trudge brackish trudge
graboid sudden grab
disturbed shrub disturbed duplicity
ochre jelly amorphous engulf
chitin embedded madness
eldritch balm fortifying resistance
slaad transforming chaos
mage hunter seeking sentinel
oni night terror
abyss chicken abyssal chicken

The only potion I can really remember them using so far is sudden duplicity which on the fly I decided allowed them to cast a version of mirror image.

Oh, and amorphous grab was kind of a weak hold person, with tentacles!

This system is great. My player is having a blast collecting as many oils and powders as they can, and making weird potions. And then we get to have fun figuring out what they do.

I look forward to the day they brew a potion of night chicken.


Anyway. Bibliomancy.

Solution 2 shows us that we can source our magic words from any body of text.

This provides us as many opportunities as there are texts out there to create thematic grimories. That is, different spellbooks each with their own flavor.

I’ll be using Moby Dick2 as the base text for the following exercises.

Here’s a snippet of the result of pasting the text into the cutup machine3:

already ship that the The captain him skeleton had its But sneaks my his lashes the and Pequod sea top reeled his afraid the on attendance soul and attendant dipped to warped enchanted very Before evaporates the Tisbury heathenish them this the Libra him he sprang turn command

Mmmm, jumbled word soup 😋

Let us extract a few choice words.

Just a few words will get you far. The number of pairs in a set of size n is equal to n(n-1) - n. So 4 words will get you 9 spells. 10 will get you 80.

Not all of them will be winners, and some of them will be redundant.

  1. Skeleton Sneak: You can make bones invisible and less prone to rattling.
  2. Skeleton Command: Point at your victim and command its skeleton to leave its body.
  3. Skeleton Soul: Your soul calcifies and becomes hard as stone and refuses to leave your body. You can miraculously escape death once.
  4. Sneak Skeleton: Subtle bones… Weighted dice… You can nudge fate in your favor.
  5. Sneak Command: Plant a hidden suggestion in writing or in your speech.
  6. Sneak Soul: Summon a shadow spirit to envelope and obscure you.
  7. Soul Skeleton: Conjure a spirit from the bones of its remains. You may ask it 3 questions.
  8. Soul Sneak: Have an out of body experience and fly around
  9. Soul Command: Issue an order to a ghost that it must obey.

In practice, you won’t create an exhaustive list of all possibilities like this. At least, you probably won’t give your player this list. It will probably serve you better as more of a fun creative exercise, or to spark inspiration. Who knows what weird fun might come from being able to make bones invisible? Or what of its inverse, the ability to make all bones in an area glow?

No, in actuality, you would let a player discover, choose, or roll for ‘magic words’, and then work with them to decide on what the spell means instead of defining all possible outcomes ahead of time. Because that would leave you with just another spell list, which we already agreed is boring, and which is what we’re trying to avoid here.

Now let us choose a few more words and arrange them into pairs.

  1. dip / ship
  2. soul / captain
  3. warp / skeleton
  4. enchant / sneak
  5. lash / before
  6. evaporate / sea
  7. reel / heathen
  8. spring / fear
  9. turn / attend
  10. command / attendant

When you’re doing this, you will likely create a lot of {verb|adjective} {noun}.

Roll d10 for a pair as is. Or roll twice for a random spell, combining a left hand term with a right hand term.

Some of these work and some of them don’t. (What is dip ship??) Some of these are reasonable. (command attendant) And some of them need to be nerfed (evaporate sea).

Word analysis

Temmon’s Bibliomantic_Oracles library makes it both quick and easy to do analysis on texts for top/unusual nouns/verbs/adjectives.4

Following are the top 20 unusual words from Moby Dick.

d20 verb adjective noun
1 whale wondrous whale
2 dart whale mast
3 hoist harpoone sperm
4 hint forecastle harpoon
5 eye live whaleman
6 invest watery harpooneer
7 heave fiery shark
8 chase spare lance
9 hail gigantic oar
10 glide precise spout
11 tow prodigious fishery
12 spout top ivory
13 lurk mystic chase
14 evince nigh coffin
15 cruise unaccountable mariner
16 insert civilized seaman
17 descry uncommon plank
18 lash windward wake
19 chance marvellous jet
20 steer endless fin

You can roll for adjective noun, verb noun, or verb adjective noun. Or whatever.



What we created above is a grimorie, a spellbook with a theme. Casting a spell from a grimorie probably creates a theme related side effect. The smell of brine, and the haunting cry of a distant whale. Or can only be opened after performing a theme related ritual. You cannot cast from the grimorie until you burn a lamp of whale blubber, and wrap the book in oiled leather and submerge it in sea water.

You can use this same process with Dracula for a gothic horror grimorie. With the Lovecraft corpus for a cosmic horror grimorie. Alice in Wonderland for surreal madness.

Appendix: Other Grimories

As with Moby Dick, below are the top 20 unusual words from each work.

Alice in Wonderland

d20 verb adjective noun
1 sneeze sleepy jury
2 swam offended mouse
3 nibble puzzled glove
4 peep queer fan
5 splash shrill slate
6 yawn uncomfortable hedgehog
7 grin confused mushroom
8 grunt timid gardener
9 quarrel hoarse tart
10 pinch sulky paw
11 tumble thimble serpent
12 trot legged lobster
13 pant unpleasant shriek
14 choke sorrowful guinea
15 growl crowded flamingo
16 nurse encouraging moral
17 howl hurried bat
18 double crimson croquet
19 sob pink kid
20 upset dreamy trembling


d20 verb adjective noun
1 beheld fellow fiend
2 extinguish amiable murderer
3 entreat benevolent anguish
4 abhor frightful cottager
5 soothe ardent wretch
6 conjecture hideous creator
7 sympathise lifeless consolation
8 shudder wondrous innocence
9 elevate favourable solitude
10 animate astonishing torture
11 blast expressive remorse
12 sicken sublime agitation
13 traverse harsh thirst
14 calm snowy sledge
15 banish terrific wretchedness
16 oppress hellish tranquillity
17 torment obscure protector
18 converse majestic hovel
19 console serene ardour
20 comply placid fatigue


d20 verb adjective noun
1 motion lunatic diary
2 upset sane coffin
3 hypnotise hypnotic fog
4 shudder sleepy sunrise
5 implore foul harbour
6 howl selfish churchyard
7 interest endless spider
8 post patient clue
9 lap uneasy madman
10 harm voluptuous telegram
11 moan tight stake
12 quiver accurate crucifix
13 seal far howling
14 bleed courteous sofa
15 pity cunning bat
16 flap resolute coming
17 choke ghastly rat
18 agonise stertorous garlic
19 buzz unclean scar
20 dip blank helsing

The King In Yellow

d20 verb adjective noun
1 wheel rosy studio
2 bar polished falcon
3 pose troubled gardener
4 stroll furious fog
5 growl insane terrace
6 caress pink concierge
7 groan incapable sunlight
8 whistle slender canvas
9 peer closed bayonet
10 motion startled policeman
11 purr blank moor
12 curl confused falconer
13 shiver hagard cigarette
14 surge twin easel
15 flap coloured battalion
16 embroider lunatic pansy
17 crouch vicious squadron
18 cough artificial basin
19 flutter gloved embankment
20 sparkle infernal cane

A Study In Scarlet

d20 verb adjective noun
1 hail smart cab
2 unravel haired detective
3 stride vacant pill
4 stagger savage murderer
5 traverse resolute waggon
6 overtake skilful deduction
7 solve haggard boulder
8 clap unnatural stain
9 stain startled advertisement
10 reconcile dreary ravine
11 sniff rigid gap
12 telegraph rugged chemical
13 whip eccentric laboratory
14 relax formidable violin
15 volunteer transparent sitting
16 gallop brownish pathway
17 pine clumsy whip
18 conform lean clue
19 rattle startling wanderer
20 glitter constable defile

Call Of The Wild / White Fang

1 haul exhausted newcomer
2 nip endless submission
3 snarl akin chase
4 shelter primordial pursuer
5 bound abrupt mastery
6 sway tough bristling
7 rear timid outside
8 blunder harsh mongrel
9 pitch swarthy outcry
10 characterize indigestible madness
11 thaw handy swiftness
12 sprawl down han
13 wrestle frightful nostril
14 clip erect fierceness
15 cringe compact break
16 strain muscular sapling
17 cower mexican squaw
18 launch mouthful harness
19 overturn sheer revolver
20 harness orthodox carcass
21 grunt snowshoe leap
22 pant legged whip
23 stamp salient murmur
24 stream hairy faro
25 tighten continuous chorus
26 circle unaccountable raft
27 boom insistent caress
28 sle unprecedented wot
29 budge pent breed
30 tower watery slash
31 lurk shrill hawk
32 impel inexorable spark
33 chew countless musher
34 forage bleak malingerer
35 rip savage moss
36 slink puppy jerk
37 scent petty groom
38 domesticate express bondage
39 wail carnivorous menace
40 camp live tepee
41 intimate malignant hind
42 shriek husky squirrel
43 strove unwashed swimming
44 growl furious lash
45 flatten sled snarling
46 stricken smart buck
47 lash brumal footing
48 clutch unbroken ferocity
49 blink slippery bough
50 tangle hoarse ecstasy
51 dislike prone ration
52 snub ragged meantime
53 coat mournful sled
54 wag moose wheeler
55 yawn superfluous pitch
56 flounder excessive caution
57 hurl staggering fang
58 resent customary calamity
59 soothe restless thicket
60 impend incommunicable snap
61 devour haired stiffness
62 whimper ferocious cunning
63 baffle slender crate
64 howl defiant tank
65 dodge experienced brute
66 oppress astonished quest
67 proffer playful halt
68 divine forward bite
69 toil heartbreaking twilight
70 loll tense leadership
71 jerk cunning courier
72 range sour odd
73 droop numb husky
74 shove nomadic famine
75 tug wounded muzzle
76 twist rampant mush
77 caress lean awakening
78 writhe alert flank
79 bristle lazy cub
80 heem rigid firewood
81 trot tight toot
82 thrash implacable manifestation
83 mat unseen pasture
84 defy crafty supremacy
85 mould brutal firelight
86 snuggle raw helper
87 whine frantic whimpering
88 ignore oblong quill
89 shiver massive roaring
90 shoulder jugular despatch
91 lick sleepy cadence
92 doze fright growl
93 swinge shepherd awe
94 double involuntary persecution
95 violate stable grub
96 chance imperative puppy
97 soar ominous thumb
98 flutter rotten moose
99 limp suspicious spruce
100 bark wrenched onlooker

Black Beauty

1 pat stable cab
2 gallop tight rein
3 trot smart whip
4 clean troubled stable
5 whip careless groom
6 temper strained stall
7 stroke vicious colt
8 neigh sore rider
9 strain restless hostler
10 whistle cheery harness
11 bleed uphill hay
12 flog shady bridle
13 stumble hoof oat
14 harness thoughtful hedge
15 fret airy coachman
16 chuck plucky farrier
17 heal timid bran
18 rein uncommon mash
19 lash lazy halter
20 shy lame luggage


The original blog posts

Modern takes on spell generation

Cut up and bibliomancy


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