Discworld: Unseen

By Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters

Art by Paul Kidby

The Orders

There have always been Orders at Unseen University, but their names and locations have changed over the centuries. The exception is Mrs. Widgery's Lodgers, which is as old as the University itself; originally, the Tower of Art was too small to hold all students, some of whom boarded with Mrs Widgery, whose house stood where New Hall does today.

Unseen University currently contains eight Orders:

[Note: these are not disciplinary colleges as American universities have a College of Medicine, College of Law, College of Large Athletic Scholarships, et cetera. In American terms, they are a little like fraternity houses, but much more formal, with a hierarchy of membership extending to the top of the faculty.]

University Servants

UU could not be run without a lot of patient, underpaid employees behind the scenes. Naive visitors might ask why the wizards could not use magic to meet their every want, but no-one with a modicum of experience of Disc magic would raise the question.

For one thing, it takes care and effort, whereas a competent servant manages himself. For another, magic has at least latent consciousness; an enchanted cooking-pot that perpetually had to produce high quality soup might, at best, raise objections to its state, and might at worst start experimenting with nouvelle cuisine. And for a third, even the most routine magic carries a tiny but significant risk of Going Wrong -- a risk that should only be run for very good reasons (such as "I felt like it"). Work as servants in such an environment carries a small but measurable risk, of course. However, it does provide one way in which female characters might get inside the University without attracting attention.

The Bledlows

The University police force are known as the Bledlows (the origin of the name is unknown). They tend to be heavyset and elderly, but quick ("spry" is a term sometimes used) and assertive; they are mostly ex-soldiers or Watchmen. They have a universal confidence that all the students are guilty of something. Most of the time, their main task is to act as porters. However, they do act as repositories of UU lore -- that is, connected with the university as an historical place of learning, rather than as a magical nexus -- and spend a lot of their time observing pointless (but possibly once useful) rituals, such as the Ceremony Of The Keys and the Search Of The Laundry.

Note: The Archchancellor is an Autocondimentor, that is, a person who seasons his food before tasting it. For most people with this habit, it means a bit of salt, maybe pepper, before they take a bite. In Ridcully's case, it includes doses of everything on the table, and anything the waiter can be persuaded to bring from the pantry. This level of Autocondimenting can earn a -3 reaction from anyone professionally involved with food preparation, and a -5 from anyone fancying himself a gourmet. Whether they will openly express their reaction in the presence of the Archchancellor is another matter. Incidentally, a possible assassin may wonder if Ridcully ever tests the salt before sprinkling it . . .

Pointed Hats

Contrary to widespread belief, pointed hats are not actually necessary for Disc magic. The fact that wizards insist on wearing vast and spectacular concoctions out of vanity, many witches find that proper witches' hats ensure that they are recognised and treated with respect, and wizardly evil viziers often insist on installing pointed centre-sections to their turbans, is just one of those cultural things. Really. There have been two noteworthy Hats mentioned in the Chronicles as belonging to the Archchancellor of Unseen University. The first had been worn, as a badge of office, by countless generations of office-holders. As a result, it had absorbed much of their personalities (not likeable) and powers (immense). It could talk, and could grant even Rincewind a small degree of magical power; on the head of a potentially competent but untrained magic-worker, it took over and made the wearer the most formidable wizard on the Disc. As the supreme symbol of wizardry, it led one strand in the resistance to the rise of Coin the Sourcerer (see Sourcery). It was fairly certainly totally destroyed during its wearer's defeat; even the wizards of Unseen University think it politic not to investigate further. The second hat, belonging to the present Archchancellor, does not appear to be magical at all; it is a work of engineering genius. It has telescopic legs and hidden oiled silk roller blinds that enable it to transform into a tent, a bottle of brandy under the tip (which unscrews to become a cup), a pistol crossbow in the hatband, and internal compartments for emergency rations and a miniature spirit stove. It is decorated with fishing flies.

Allied Magical Trades

They aren't often seen in the chronicles, but of course, there has to be a class of "support staff" for all those hard-working wizards who find themselves too busy to travel far from their laboratories, libraries, and dining-halls, and too dignified to wash out their own alembics, let alone to go digging up grubby roots by moonlight.


Magicians are mostly failed students of magic -- Unseen University drop-outs and such -- who perform basic lab-tech functions for wizards, as they prefer to stay on the fringes of the thaumaturgical world rather than leave it altogether. (Note; the term is sometimes used as a synonym for "wizard," but that is a potentially dangerous mistake. A wizard might turn a person into a deckchair for making it, while a magician might look extremely hurt and refrain from buying that person any more drinks, ever again.)


Thaumaturgists are a step down even from Magicians, as they lack any formal magical training; their job is to go out and fetch ingredients. This doesn't mean shopping; it means grave-robbing, molesting small (and not-so-small) animals, and a lot of earplugs, running away, and inventing bizarre excuses.


Conjurers are not really magic-workers at all, but tubby, smiling fellows with coats stuffed full of half-smothered doves and decks of cards from which you will be asked to choose one, any one, unless you are very swift on your feet. They are usually accompanied by thin women in spangly outfits who don't speak much but point at things with considerable grace, and react nervously in the presence of large boxes and saws.

Real wizards hold conjurers in the utmost contempt, made worse by the fact that the conjurers don't seem to understand that they're a joke, and almost intolerable because they insist on treating wizards like pals, or even colleagues.

While conjuring isn't really a profession -- most of them make their actual living doing something else -- they have a Guild, with a small guildhall in Ankh-Morpork. A practising Conjuror (and they never seem to not be practising) receives a -2 reaction from all Wizards1 and a -1 from anyone who has seen too many card tricks or has trouble around rabbits.

1: The only likely exception that comes to mind would be Rincewind, who is unlikely to make much fuss over qualifications.

The Thaum

The sort of wizards who believe in measuring everything usually use a unit of magic called theThaum. This is defined as the amount of power necessary to (semi-permanently) create one small white pigeon or three standard billiard balls. Academic wizards recognise smaller divisions (millithaums), but these are not of direct importance to practical spell-casting.

Another unit of measurement exists, the Prime (named for its inventor, Augustus Prime). The Prime equals the amount of magic required to move one pound of lead one foot, with subdivisions into milli-, micro-, and nanoprimes. This was an attempt to put magical measurement on a rational scientific basis. It never caught on. For atmospheric purposes, the GM may declare that a thaum is equal to one GURPS energy/Fatigue point, and require PC mages to use this terminology.

The Thaumometer

Ambient magical energy can be measured with a thaumometer, a dark blue glass tube with a dial on the front and a button on the side. It is useful for determining when one is in an area of high residual magic (a Very High Mana zone). This device seems to be a relatively new invention, and is probably only available at Unseen University (and perhaps on the Counterweight Continent); a suggested price to PCs is $250.

Room 3B

Unseen University's "Room 3B" does not exist, but for once, there is nothing darkly metaphysical about this unreality. The simple fact is that some lectures and so on are on the timetable, but no teacher or student wants anything to do with them. These lectures are always scheduled for Room 3B. Sometimes the entire teaching staff is in there at once. However, an established Discworld fact is that if enough people believe in a thing . . .

Magic Circles

Summoning spells, including some whose primary purpose is to obtain information, often involve the scribing of magic circles and Octograms. These mostly serve as conductors for secondary spells which keep the summonsed entity in place (if the caster is lucky). (A quite separate phenomenon is the periodic supernatural effect whereby circles of flattened plants appear in rural cornfields, and sometimes in other crops and people's breakfast cereals. This is widely recognised by magical theorists as a sign that dimensional barriers are weakening slightly; relatively few people, mostly older witches, know that it indicates a serious danger, because it gives elves -- see p.DW171 -- a chance of access.)

Article publication date: August 21, 1998

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