Discovered in the early 20th century, and reputedly dating to the 15th or 16th century, the Voynich manuscript is apparently a mysterious text, filled with strange diagrams of plants and animals, accompanied by indecipherable writing. Hoax or historical artifact, the Voynich manuscript also makes a fantastic McGuffin. It could be an alien biology textbook, encoded prophecies dictated by Roger Bacon’s brazen head or even just a con to put one over on a trusting character.
Here are five things the Voynich manuscript could be in a roleplaying game:
1. A secret society’s monster-hunting manual.
The Order of the Vigilant Eye encoded its entire body of knowledge about the unearthly and unhallowed in these pages. Unfortunately, the cipher is so complex, readers often find themselves frantically translating on the fly while their compatriots hold off one or more menacing beasts.
2. A textbook of true alchemy.
To the enlightened reader who can penetrate the author’s allegorical code, the Voynich manuscript not only instructs how to transmute physical materials, but also living organisms, creating fantastic new beings from the combination of mundane creatures.
3. A guidebook to transdimensional interstices.
In a plane-hopping campaign of portals and crosstime byways, the manuscript lays out the various connections and interchanges by which the savvy traveler roams the cosmos, interspersed between studies of extraplanar flora and fauna. “So we have to go through the Plane of Salt to reach Hy-Brasil?”
4. The telepathically transcribed contents of an extraterrestrial’s mind.
Queen Elizabeth’s Men in Black Doublets, using Edward Kelley as psychographer, captured and psychically interrogated a “faerie of gaunt complexione w. a moste unnerving gaze” that had been found skulking around a barrow in Cheshire. Further investigation revealed a tunnel leading to a “curiouse celestial wheel of wondrous material” buried deep beneath the barrow.
5. A guidebook by John Mandeville.1
One of history’s great phonies, John Mandeville wrote one more text, the Voynich manuscript. Whether it’s genuine and Mandeville went way far off the map for this one — and invented a whole new language in which to do so — or is more of his typical humbuggery, depends on how it better serves your game.
1 Himself featured as a plot seed in Suppressed Transmission.