Voynich Redux

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I blogged about the Voynich Manuscript quite a while ago, and since then I’ve read a few more books on the subject in my spare time(1). Yesterday, I watched a new documentary about the Voynich Manuscript called the “The Voynich Manuscript – The World’s Most Mysterious Manuscript” which addressed its age and speculated as to its author. The conclusion of the documentary was that it was written over the course of a couple of days in the 1420s(2), somewhere in a northern Italian city that had a fort with swallow (or dove) tail battlements. It also claimed that the intent matters, and that it’s possible that the manuscript text is gibberish while the images or not.

To me, this text screams “alchemy” for a few reasons, but not necessarily from a scientific perspective. Alchemy was (and continues to be) a blend of the metaphorical and chemical. Images, codes, symbols, and gibberish (which is thought to originate from the Islamic alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan) were used to explore transmutation and the relationship between the masculine and the feminine. A pregnant woman, for example, was commonly used to represent the moon. So an image that “looks like” a series of pregnant women taking a bath, would (through the lens of alchemy) be the phases of the moon. Their modesty protected, would be apropros of the 15th century–especially if the book was, indeed, written in Italy which was heavily influenced by the mores of the Holy Roman Empire and Catholicism.

Lunar Phases

Timing, in occult terms, was very important to the success of any rite and, for alchemy, the Master Work in order to successfully perform a transmutation that was both physical and metaphysical. While the Master Work itself varied, key principles were often explored between alchemist and pupil or couples such as Nicholas Flamel (Yep, the Harry Potter character was based on him) and his wife Perenelle. Often, in history, women are overlooked and, in this case, I have yet to read a discussion about the aspects of gender in this work which, I feel, are hugely important given the role of gender in alchemic symbology. Hermaphroditic characters, for example, were also used to portray the perfect union between the masculine and the feminine or, as is usually the case, Hermes/Mercury.

The fact that so many plants were illustrated in the Voynich Manuscript is a different way of portraying that union, with the plant and its “seeds” being the fruits of an experiment when the Sun (male/heat/sunshine) and Moon (female/cool/water) shines down on the earth. Even so, the images would be based on an amalgamation of what the scribe knew or, in my mind, what that person was taught. Alchemists usually come in pairs, and are performing works that would be construed as heresy and grounds for trial and accusation of witchcraft. While the nobility and wealthy class might somewhat be immune to such claims, they would protect what is known as “The Golden Chain” at all costs. The Golden Chain is the handing down of knowledge from master to scribe and so on throughout the centuries.

In my mind, the text could be a combination of gibberish and code. Remove the gibberish, which is known only to the scribe, and the code emerges. I believe this is not the only text that was written at the time, and the book was either intended to be passed down to the next scribe, or was written in exchange for a large sum of money. The folios themselves might even have been bound or collected at a later date. After all, if you are teaching occult knowledge you wish to keep hidden from an Inquisitor, from the scrutiny of the Church, from rivals and greedy nobles who desire what you know–why just write one text if you intend to pass it on?(3) Or, alternatively, if you were paid to write alchemical knowledge by a wealthy noble, why bother worrying about whether or not you were telling the truth? You could generate something that looks like the real thing, without revealing what you actually know?

Regardless, one of the things I find interesting about the Voynich Manuscript(4) is the fact that every theory I’ve heard “seems” to be true. I am not certain we’ll ever find proof, but I do feel that the intent–the reason why these folios were produced in the first place–would provide some answers.

(1) I tend to read non-fiction before drifting off to sleep. It allows me to clear my head so I can dream about my plots and characters interruption-free. I tend to read fiction in a sitting for this reason, or listen to audio books.
(2) Interestingly, 1420 was a leap year which might have had significance in terms of occult timing as well.
(3) Several countries outlawed alchemy late 14th century/early 15th century due to the obsession with turning lead into gold. There’s an interesting book you can read titled: “Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire.”
(4) Hey, some people are obsessed with aliens. Me? I like a good historical mystery to chew on every once in a while.

    Mood: Is my nerdness showing yet?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not. Enough.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 30. Day 8 in a row!
    In My Ears: Listening to the tail end of a so-so comedy hour.
    Game Last Played: Plants vs. Zombies I
    Book Last Read: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Empire Strikes Back.
    Latest Artistic Project: Um… Let me get right on that.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

Janus Goes Both Ways

Janus Small

No, I have not been blogging much lately and I apologize for that. I’ve been taking advantage of the holidays and the wintry weather to revel in the silence of the season by getting caught up on Netflix and playing Dragon Age: Inquisition while dropping the F-bomb vigorously. I had every intention of posting a wrap-up from last year, but as I started to review my project updates I realized that I had already done a pretty good job of sharing what was going on work-wise already. Or, at least, what I could share due to non-disclosure agreements, professional concerns, and the threat of another deadline whizzing by(1). The biggest change, last year, was a shift in scheduling from a long-term gig based on a number of books to a regular day-to-day freelancing. I thought I was prepared for it, because I had a number of gigs lined up, but sometimes even worst case scenarios fall through. And, in my experience, that’s usually when Life, the Universe, and EverythingTM sends a stunning reminder that yes, mortality is a “thing” and bodies do have an expiration date (2).

To cope, I traveled a lot. Whined and bitched. Read a lot. Whined and bitched some more. Drank. Felt bad about the whining and the bitching, then played TetrisTM with the projects that slowly ramped up again. Did not feel bad about the drinking, though, as I did keep THAT in moderation. But, all things considered, I did wind up sliding back-and-forth, teetering over the abyss. It happens to everybody. It, going through a depression, happened to me. And yet? Over the holidays, I realized how very normal last year was, and how upset I was because of it. Normal, for all intents and purposes, didn’t feel like progress because it wasn’t extraordinary in any way shape or form. So over 2015!

Anyway, I hinted that work was variable last year for a variety of reasons in my progress updates. Part of this, I feel, was due to the fact that some potential employers would look at my slate of releases and assume that always applies to what I am doing right now, right this minute, with no flexibility or room for discussion. Mistaken impressions do seem to be a constant battle for me, because I’ve benefited from posting my progress updates in many ways. For example, they show I don’t just work on games(3) and, as another, they also help explain gaps in a release schedule. Ironically, my slate of projects is typically filled with releases that will be coming out in six months to a year or more. If there’s a huge rush of books, comics, and games announced here, it’s a reflection of work I’ve already done–with the exception of short-term projects or my own stuff. The moral to my story is this: if you read something posted online and come to a conclusion, try not to make decisions based on what you read. Ask! While I am a WYSIWYG kind of a person, I (like every other author with a micro-public profile out there) post different kinds of blogs for various reasons. Posting a progress update to avoid getting hired on a project is pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m hoping for.

Moving on. As the title of this blog post suggests, Janus (e.g. the Roman god January was named after) does look both ways: forward and back. Looking ahead, I’ve plotted out my annual goals based on what I want to do as opposed to what milestones I didn’t achieve last year. I feel this approach is giving me a better, more optimistic outlook and, to be perfectly honest, it switches up my strategy a bit to include That Which Is Uncomfortable in order to grow(4). I’m also thinking more holistically in terms of travel, health, etc. and started a fresh routine to balance sitting on my butt (e.g. writing) with hoofing it. It’s been a challenge so far, but it’s also giving me a new perspective to kick off the year and–super bonus points–I can achieve smaller milestones that keep me motivated.

Speaking of motivated… Apologies for cutting this off now, but I’ve got a manuscript that begs my attention. ‘Til next time!

(1) Without fail, every time I talk about deadlines somebody quotes Douglas Adams to me. That quote is so old and tired, Hrotsvitha herself is rolling her eyes.
(2) Deep Thoughts, by a writer who is decidedly not Jack Handey.
(3) Yes, believe it or not, I can/have/do write more than just games. Grammar be cursed.
(4) Go ahead. Say it. “You’re such a blah-de-blah INTJ blah-de-blah nerd.” YES I AM. If I don’t take my writing seriously, how can I expect anyone else to?

    Mood: Strangely zen.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: My ass is dragging today. Doesn’t matter how much I drink.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 42
    In My Ears: Pew! Pew!
    Game Last Played: Plants vs. Zombies II
    Book Last Read: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Empire Strikes Back.
    Latest Artistic Project: Um… Let me get right on that.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

[New Games Release] Battle for the Undercity for D&D 5E

Battle for the Undercity

Today, I am pleased to announce the release of Battle for the Undercity, a D&D 5th Edition adventure I designed and wrote for a DM’s use in any Forgotten Realms™ campaign. Rules and editing were provided by Scarred Lands developer Scott Holden. This adventure, which is available on the new www.dmsguild.com website, would not have been possible without Wizards of the Coast’s recent announcement.

Despite wearing multiple hats in the gaming industry for over a decade, this adventure is my first foray into writing for Dungeons and Dragons, and I had a lot of fun designing it and the monster variants. The adventure is right in line with my design philosophy as a writer and gamer myself: providing value, which is what (I hope!) is reflected in the final result. So, for my first adventure I wanted to write something that could be run in any city found in the Forgotten RealmsTM with an underlying theme with a variable mood that can be amplified or downplayed according to the locations and characters the party encounters. Designing locations, characters, monster variants, plots… These sorts of things come very easily to me, which means my writing output is all that much faster, when the structure is established. (GAH! As I’m writing this, I’m getting all excited designing a new, experimental hybrid structure… DOWN BRAIN BUNNIES, DOWN!)

Regardless, I feel every writer (aspiring or established) benefits from the quality and structure of the existing D&D 5E material–and that is a no b.s. comment. I wouldn’t have written an adventure that has no guarantee of benefiting me creatively or professionally if I wasn’t impressed with it, and I feel it’s easier to manage expectations based on pre-existing material. My decisions to do future adventures and material will depend upon sales, because I do need to make up costs in order for this to be viable since I’m writing full-time. ‘Course, writing this wouldn’t have been possible without playing 5E myself, since this is a different style of game than what I normally work on.

Battle for the Undercity takes place underground in a section of a major city. The party will navigate sewers, worked tunnels, forgotten crypts, and freshly dug passageways to fend off adversaries in order to rescue hostages and return them safely to the surface unharmed. Can your party emerge victorious and save the day?

In this adventure you will find:

  • Adventure background and hooks
  • Map to the Undercity
  • Detailed location guide
  • Suggestions to increase and decrease the Challenge Rating
  • Advice to customize the adventure to your party
  • New! Crimson Coins thieves’ faction and characters
  • New! Ten Legs tribe, Goblin Beast-Master, and Beast-Rider monster variants
  • New! Corrupted Shield-Guardian monster variant
  • New! Ancient Revenant monster variant

This adventure includes three, separate three-to-four hour long missions that can be run in any order, depending upon the needs and composition of your party members. While this was designed as an adventure module for 7th- to 9th-level characters to be run in the recommended timeframe, you will find notes to adjust the missions to increase or decrease their difficulty and length.

If you’re interested in supporting my work, buy a copy of Battle for the Undercity.

Codex Entry: A Letter from an Up and Coming Inquisitor

To the esteemed design team at Bioware and the publishing team at Electronic Arts:

I wish that time had permitted me to acquire Dragon Age: Inquisition when it was first released, but I was away on travel in lands currently unknown to natives of Ferelden, Tevinter, and Orlais. Sadly, as circumstances would have it, my schedule did not permit me to devote the required resources to play it. And, as the year went on, a series of misfortunes had further, negative effects on my ability to venture into the lands of archdemons and the Fade, magisters and the Imperium, mages and templars.

This has since been rectified, thanks to the gift I received from my partner in life and love during our Christmas (which is your Feast Day). I had just finished traveling through Ferelden for the first time as a mage, in Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening, and the events that occurred were fresh in my mind. While I did not revisit Kirkwall (I have been the Champion, but never the political leader as apparently the choices I made have never led to a full takeover of that fine city), I had played it before and had certain expectations for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I am happy to report that Dragon Age: Inquisition has exceeded all of my expectations. I am a storyteller and designer of amusements by trade, and I was greatly surprised by the complexity and various levels of interaction with the characters–not to mention the love letters to the fans scattered throughout Ferelden and beyond. The reappearance of minor personages such as Dagda was a welcome sight, and the ability to immerse myself into stories littered behind every soldier, rock, cabin, and cave has allowed me to set aside my gloomy outlook in these dark days of winter and revel in my own curiosity as I travel throughout Thedas collecting shards, bottles, and (of course), herbs such as spindleweed and rashvine.

Though the darkspawn are a familiar, if not bleak, sight–the tales of the Black City, the stories the citizens of Ferelden, Antiva, Orlais, and Tevinterand are the beating of the Inquisition and I cannot go enough of them. Sadly, other stories and amusements require my time, for gold speaks louder than love, but had I the opportunity I would gladly negotiate the possibility of spinning yarns in this epic era. Truly, while it may seem I am a traveling merchant seeking to trade–there is no higher compliment I can give. For, any story I play, read, or watch that draws me in to tell stories of my own? To me, such an occurrence is the mark of a masterful storytelling team. And, while no work of art is without its flaws, I wish to thank you for your artistry, your willingness to listen to feedback, and your attention to detail. This is, by far, one of the best and most noteworthy experiences I have had in a long time.

May your futures be filled with new stories of your own, and your blades be sharp.


The Lady Inquisitor

On Hunter the Vigil 2nd Edition Open Development

Following my announcement from last year that I am the developer for Hunter the Vigil 2nd Edition which features the Slasher Chronicle, I uploaded my first OpenDevelopment post titled: Hunter 2E OpenDev and Ashwood Abbey and the second one which is Tier Two Compacts and Globalization.

There are a lot of approaches to development, and managing this line will be very, very different from the Firefly RPG for the simple reason that the licensing and setting restrictions aren’t based on a TV show. Hunter: the Vigil was (and is) a widely popular game where you play a human hunter–for all the good, bad, and ugly that entails–fighting the supernatural. The line, which has had continued support since the corebook’s debut eight or nine years ago, will be getting a new edition and this is why I’m on board. In a way, I’m very lucky because I’m focused on enhancements as opposed to creating something from scratch. Since other second edition books for the Chronicles of Darkness have already been released, I have a lot of pre-existing material and systems to draw from to create a new edition–which is great. However, there’s a lot of tweaks I want to make, but to help me make better decisions I am using Open Development as a way to get feedback prior to writing the outline for the corebook.

This, too, is a huge departure from Firefly, as setting restrictions for Hunter aren’t overly specific, nor are they related to the show so I have more flexibility to start with within the conceit of hunting monsters. Here, I’m building a new edition off a hugely strong foundation, and I get the opportunity to have fan feedback because of the relationship between Onyx Path Publishing and Paradox Entertainment. This is a pretty big deal to me, because though as a developer I have to weigh decisions for all kinds of players (meaning I need to avoid one-true-way-isms and focus more on the toolkit approach that Hunter originated with), I can hear from fans what their reasoning is behind what they like about the game. And, most importantly, how certain decisions impact play at their tables as opposed to what they’re gleaning from reading the text itself.

It’ll be interesting to see how OpenDev shakes out, once I get to the rules portion of the conversation, but for now I’m tightly focused on clarifying what those enhancements might be (e.g. tiered play, slashers, etc.) to set some bones down before proceeding. This will also enable me to see where the holes are before proceeding with an open call for writers, especially since I’m keen on lifting the game to a truly global level.

If you’re interested in reading OpenDev, I’ll link to them in my project updates or you can follow along by visiting the Onyx Path website at www.theonyxpath.com.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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