Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

By Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters

Legends of the Founding

Ankh-Morpork naturally has its founding-myths. There are two to choose from. The first says that it was originally built by two orphaned brothers who were raised and suckled by hippopotamuses (or, if you are an academic historian, hippopotami). Regardless of the truth of this tale, the hippo is the royal animal of Ankh-Morpork, and eight heraldic hippos line the Brass Bridge, facing seaward. It is said that if the city is ever threatened with danger, they will run away.

The second, which does not appear in all published histories, but which appeals to many visitors' sense of plausibility, is that sometime in antiquity the gods flooded the world, but wise men loaded two of every known animal (arthropod, mite, retrovirus, etc.) onto a huge boat and floated to safety. After a few weeks, however, the boat's manure load had sunk it to the gunwales and the rain was still coming, so the wise men dumped the ordure over the side. And that was how the city's foundations were laid.

The Great Wahoonie

The Wahoonie is a Howondaland vegetable that grows twenty feet long, is covered in spikes the colour of earwax, and smells so disgusting that it is banned in many cities. (It tastes worse, in most people's opinions, but naturally there are people who love it.)

Ankh-Morpork is often called "the Great Wahoonie."

Old Stoneface

Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork Watch and leader of the city militia (a bunch of stolid soldiers known as "Ironheads") in the revolt against King Lorenzo the Kind, was a stern and unrelenting man, whose nickname was "Old Stoneface." Strangely enough, Sir Samuel Vimes, current Commander of the Watch, has acquired the same nickname.

Many people believe that Sir Samuel is the descendent of the earlier Vimes; this has been confirmed by the Ankh-Morpork College of Heralds, who keep careful track of these things. (Other past members of the family apparently also went into the Watch.) Sir Samuel himself has studied the period with irritated interest, and clearly admires his ancestor, feeling that he did what was necessary at the time; he claims that "Old Stoneface" offered the city democracy, and that the citizens voted against it.

The people couldn't even bring themselves to execute the vile Lorenzo; he was a king, after all. So "Old Stoneface" took it upon himself to do the job. Needless to say, Lorenzo is now largely remembered as a romantic, tragic figure, and "Old Stoneface" is despised.

How the period of military rule ended is unclear; it is known that his side won the Ankh-Morpork Civil War, but Samuel Vimes considers that his ancestor was betrayed, and there are hints that he was executed. It seems that he was too much of a puritan idealist, and too lacking in political skill, to really reform Ankh-Morpork. His tidy-minded military dictatorship lasted six months.

The Brass Bridge

There are a number of bridges across the Ankh, but the greatest and most noted is the Brass Bridge, with its eight wooden heraldic hippos. (There are four on either side of the road, all facing the sea.) It links Upper and Lower Broadway, the Patrician's Palace with the Isle of Gods. It is also the bridge which certain citizens periodically sell to visitors from the country.

The Seamstresses' Guild

Okay, this is a euphemism. "Seamstress" is the profession that determined independent women on the Disc are too proud to enter (as opposed to Rich Man's Wife, for which they are usually too intelligent, or crime, for which they may not have the talent or the morals), and hence is often mentioned by swordswomen in their biographies.

A survey of the Ankh-Morpork docks once found 987 women who described themselves as seamstresses, and two needles. The Guild, currently run by the formidable Mrs. Palm, is a small organization that monitors basic standards and looks after its members' safety interests, employing a number of trolls and two enigmatic enforcers, the Agony Aunts. (Cause too much trouble in certain "houses," and some very strange things can happen to you).

Non-PC though it may appear, the Guild is effectively a co-operative operating to the benefit of its workers at, as it were, all levels. Clearly, they say, such things will exist, and they should therefore be properly run, with a career structure and pension schemes and advanced training. In fact the result of all this has been to turn Ankh-Morpork's red light district into quite a peaceful place (the Watch will only arrest you if you cause trouble, whereas the Agony Aunts will stop at nothing) and likewise a man may enter any establishment in the knowledge that he is not going to be assaulted and beaten black and blue (unless his tastes run that way.)

Banned Guilds

Very few guilds have ever been banned in Ankh-Morpork, although the Patrician reserves the right to change things as he sees fit; certainly, a guild which seems to have lost control will find itself obliged to sort itself out -- or be sorted out.

The Firefighters' Guild was one that was prohibited; it started out on the basis that a small monthly payment to the guild would guarantee the attention of its members in the event of a fire, but that turned out to mean that they came round to the houses of people who didn't pay, and made Meaningful Casual Remarks. Protection rackets are one thing, as the Thieves' Guild would say, but fire in Ankh-Morpork is just too much of a general danger.

The Dogs' Guild

The Dogs' Guild admits only dogs who have been "bad." Members must have at least run away from their owners. The Guild controls scavenging rights, assigns loud-barking and cat-chasing territories, and regulates breeding. Its leader is called the Chief Barker.

While few PCs are likely to voluntarily choose membership in this guild, the nature of fate on the Disc means that temporary qualification cannot be ruled out, and in such circumstances one ought to be glad to have a strong professional association.

For a while, the guild was led by Big Fido, a canine fanatic. Big Fido was a poodle who dreamed of wolves, and whose burning insanity made him quite capable of dismembering any other dog in the city; size, training, or breed were irrelevancies. Had Big Fido been human, the Disc would probably have been in serious trouble, involving jackboots.

However, since Big Fido's death, the guild has gone back to quieter ways, with fewer dreams. But many a flea-bitten stray remembers; it makes life in the gutters a little bit more tolerable.

The Rat Guild

The Rat Guild is only rumoured to exist, but if it does it would certainly have the largest membership in the city.

Mrs. Cake

Mrs. Evadne Cake is a middle-aged woman living on Elm Street, on the edge of the Shades. She is short, plump (almost circular), and short-sighted. She wears an enormous hat, covered in wax fruit and stuffed birds, all painted black, and carries a huge handbag.

She is a highly talented medium, well-connected with the Ankh-Morpork spirit world (such as it is), with at least one spirit assistant, named One-Man-Bucket. (She does not feel she needs a spirit guide, but sometimes a direct contact on the other side can save time.) Her paranormal perceptions also include powerful short-range precognition.

She has, in GURPS terms, at least two big social disadvantages. The first, little more than a nuisance, is that she tends to leave her precognition switched on, and set about ten seconds into the future, at which point it is completely reliable. It thus functions as Danger Sense, which would be more important if she were an adventurer; unfortunately, it also leads her to answer people's questions before they ask them. (She gets a headache if they then fail to ask the question she has just answered.) This can be very disconcerting. It can also be very difficult to play, unless the players are prepared to enter into the spirit of things; GMs should have her switch this power off most of the time when PCs are around.

The second is that she has Religion. In Disc society, attending many different temples is not actually considered wrong, but it is thought a little erratic. Mrs. Cake is very erratic. She not only attends temples, she tells the priests how they should operate, what to tell their congregations, and generally what to think. Her good works never cease, despite the silent prayers of a thousand clerics. She has what might rate as a -4 Reputation among the city's priests -- the whole Disc's priests, it is said -- except that they dare not say or do anything.

Mrs. Cake has a daughter, Ludmilla, who is a werewolf, shifting to a semi-humanoid wolf form one week a month. Ludmilla left home recently, in the company of a gentleman named Lupine. Well, he's a (rather hairy) gentleman during the full moon; at other times, he is a wolf. Despite the fact that they are only really compatible one week in four, they seem to have a working relationship.

Mrs. Cake's House

After Ludmilla left home, Mrs. Cake decided she could acquire some money and company by opening her fairly capacious house to lodgers. With her relaxed view of death, and experience of the practical problems of lycanthropy, she has found a gap in the market; she takes in undead, werewolves, and other supernatural beings. She is uniquely tolerant of people who keep strange hours, or who need a window left open for their return, or a spare change of clothes kept handy. Particularly strange PCs seeking accommodation in Ankh-Morpork may find themselves directed or drawn to Mrs. Cake's house.

The Y.M.R-C-I-G-B-S.A.

Newcomers to Ankh-Morpork who find good advice on where to stay may be directed to the Young Men's Reformed-Cultists-of-the-Ichor-God-Bel-Shamharoth Association, a charitable establishment which does provide basic rooms at an affordable price (about $2 a night). It is not quite as respectable as its founders hoped -- drink sometimes gets smuggled onto the premises, and some underworld characters use it when lying low -- but it is tolerable. These days, it is more often referred to as the Young Men's Pagan Association.


In the time of Brutha, the nation of Omnia (p.25) had one Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dblah, purveyor of dubious holy relics and rancid sweetmeats. The Agatean city of Hung-Hung has Disembowel-Meself-Honorably Dibhala, who sells fresh 100-year-old eggs and pork balls (on a chopstick). You can be pretty certain that every society eventually produces its own particular Dibbler variant.

Most Watchmen are better equipped than the street troublemakers they have to deal with, though some seem merely to be wearing a light coating of rust. Some of the trolls are probably no better off than they would be if naked, but that is adequate. There is certainly no rule that says a Watchman cannot spend his spare pay on better equipment, or his spare time mending and maintaining what he is issued. It also cannot be ruled out that a Watchman will show up wearing Kasgooble's Breastplate of Turning Expensive Magic Swords into String Cheese (its powers long forgotten, its operating instructions obscured by heavy verdigris), but don't hold your breath.

Article publication date: July 23, 1998

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