Discworld/Men At Arms

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Men at Arms
Men at Arms 3240.jpg
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme:
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Preceded by: Lords and Ladies
Followed by: Soul Music (novel)
First published: 1993
v · d · e

The 15th Discworld novel and the second in the City Watch theme after Guards! Guards!

Within the week, Sam Vimes will marry Lady Sybil and retire from the Watch. At the same time, the Watch has been forced to take on three new constables from ethnic minorities - Cuddy the dwarf, Detritus the troll, and Angua the w- (oman)? Meanwhile, a penniless noble and retired assassin, Edward d'Eath, spots Corporal Carrot around the city and deduces that he is the true heir to Ankh-Morpork's vacant throne. After failing to convince other nobles that they should work to restore the kingdom, d'Eath achieves full marks at the postgraduate course at the Assassins' Guild and finds a reference to a certain banned weapon...

Notable for setting up the Watch status quo that forms the setting for many future books.

Men at Arms is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Men at Arms include:
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Big Fido is an obvious dog analogue of Adolf Hitler being a small nervous poodle who nonetheless rants about the Natural Superiority of the Canine Race and how all dogs are spiritually wolves (just as Hitler was short and dark but presented tall blond Aryans as being the superior German race).
    • Angua, who has run with wolf packs, is amazed at how off his idea of wolves is. It's basically just a collection of traits that humans don't want to acknowledge in themselves (and wolves lack altogether).
  • All the Myriad Ways: "In a million universes, this was a very short book."
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: The highly flammable nitrocellulose billiard balls? Those actually existed.
  • Analogy Backfire
  • Anti-Villain: d'Eath is probably the closest any Discworld villain comes to this, as his reasons for wanting to restore monarchy are based on a misguided and idealistic impression of that system, and he's used as a pawn by less well-intentioned characters. Plus, it turns out he's been dead most of the book.
    • Vimes (despite hating Assassins) admits that Dr. Cruces was probably a decent man, before the Gonne took hold of his mind.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Gonne.
  • Ask a Stupid Question: Cuddy is asked if he's a dwarf. He answers: "It's the nose, isn't it? It always gives me away."
    • Another time he responds "Are you a giant? No? Ah, so I must be a dwarf then." You get the impression that he gets asked that a lot.
  • Automatic Crossbows: Frequently averted. On several occasions, the plot revolves around the fact that the crossbow has either just fired or will leave the wielder unarmed for a time if it is fired. What makes the gonne dangerous is that it lacks that disadvantage on top of being longer range and almost always lethal.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Nobby of the Ankh-Morpork City Ordnance Inspection CityAudit Bureau Special Audit Inspection.
  • Belated Backstory: This is the book where we first learn that Vimes is the descendant of the man who killed the last king of Ankh-Morpork.
  • Beware the Honest Ones: Carrot at the Fools' Guild.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Carrot and the Just Between You and Me example.
    • Also the first book to insinuate that there may be just a little something more to Carrot's personality than meets the eye.
  • BFG: Not the gonne, but Detritus's "crossbow", which is actually a siege ballista.
  • Black Shirt: the Day Watch.
  • Bluffing the Murderer
  • Bold Inflation: Edward D'Eath.

"He could think in italics. Such people need watching. Preferably from a safe distance."


Detritus: You can't trust 'em.
Skully: Who?
Detritus: Trolls. Nasty pieces of work in my opinion.

  • Bothering by the Book: Carrot's talent for this first begins to be really apparent here, as well as his way with Exact Words.
  • Breast Plate: Angua doesn't have one, and won't until someone takes one to the armourer and has him beat it out really well here and here.
  • Brick Joke: Probably one of the most extreme ever written. There's a brief aside near the beginning of the book where Vimes and Carrot look at the disused Post Office building and its sign reading "NEITHER RAIN NOR SNOW NOR GLOM OF NIT..." (a parody of the motto on the US Postal Service building in New York). In its place, this seems to be just a typical joke about bad mediaeval spelling on the Discworld, but a full eleven years later, Terry Pratchett wrote Going Postal, in which it's revealed that the sign is spelled like that because several letters were stolen to make up the sign of a nearby hairdresser's called Hugos (no apostrophe).
    • That tiny little thing about "cohorts", as it was Moist von Lipwig who mentioned that he used to think it was a piece of armor, and would imagine people polishing them... like the Watch did near the end.
    • See Prophecy Twist below for an single-book example.
    • The story of Fingers-Mazda stealing fire from the gods, here a one-off footnote joke, forms the basis of the plot of The Last Hero.
    • This is also the first mention of Koom Valley, which becomes a major plot point in Thud. Subverted, in that when it comes up then, it's not funny any more.
  • Bucket Booby Trap: at the Fools' Guild.
  • Call Back: The Librarian wanting to be a Best Man at a wedding, seeing as he'd been one before.
    • Detritus recruits two trolls named Flint and Moraine to the Watch. Could be the same two from Moving Pictures, though "Flint" changed his name a couple of times in that book.
  • Character Development: Compare Vimes and Carrot here to how they appear in Guards! Guards! Right from his first appearance in the book Carrot has significantly more depth than he did in his first appearance.
  • Characterization Marches On: Lord Rust here is shown as one of the more cynical and intelligent of Ankh-Morpork's nobles. In Jingo by contrast he's presented as Too Dumb to Live, while in Monstrous Regiment he's about halfway between the two.
    • Possibly justified in that here, he is interacting with his fellow nobles, which allows him to come across as clever, and even kind of likeable in how he treats Edward d'Eath. When interacting with commoners, on the other hand...
    • Another theory is that this Lord Rust is the father of Jingo's Lord Rust.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: "Prickle, prickle, prickle."
  • Cool Chair: The "golden" throne of Ankh-Morpork. Subverted in that it's so rotten and woodwormy that it would immediately fall apart if sat on.
  • Cool Sword: Carrot's nameless blade, which is very specifically and completely non-magical. It's just "bloody efficient" at cutting things, which is more than most Discworld swords, the vast majority of which are magical and therefore not-quite-real.
  • Covers Always Lie: the 1997 US paperback edition.
    • Also there are a couple of errors on the Josh Kirby version, such as Cuddy not having a beard. Several of Kirby's covers show dwarves as completely different to how Pratchett describes them.
  • Crowd Song: Referenced. Carrot could make one happen if he tried, while anyone else would wind up as another stain on the street.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: A sort of arms-race between Vines and the gonne-wielder, in terms of a Decoy Hiding Place.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cuddy, so so much.
  • Determinator: Big Fido.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Sign at the Post Office:

troll's with sticks
All sorts of dragons
Mrs Cake
Huje green things with teeth
Any kinds of black dogs with orange eyebrows
Rains of spaniel's
Mrs Cake


Colon: This, men, is your truncheon. Hand you will look after it. You will eat with hit, you will sleep with hit, you-
Cuddy: How do we eat with it, sergeant? Do we use it as a knife or fork or cut it down the middle for chopsticks or what?
Angua: And how exactly do we sleep with it?

    • Whether or not the innuendo was intentional, it makes Nobby snigger.
    • Subsequently misremembered by Detritus as:

Detritus: Dis is your club with nail in it! You will eat it! You will sleep on it!

    • Along with:

Detritus: Where you from, Bauxite?
Bauxite: Slice Mountain, but -
Detritus: Slice Mountain! Slice Mountain? Only two things come from Slice Mountain! Rocks... an'... an'... other sortsa rocks! What kind you, Bauxite?

  • Dumb Muscle: Detritus had previously appeared in Guards! Guards! and Moving Pictures, but it's here that we start to get particularly acquainted with him and his... difficulties. Poor thing can't even read, and knocks himself out trying to salute. Subverted in that when locked in a freezer, his silicon-based brain becomes a superconductor and he reaches near-godlike levels of intelligence.
  • Embarrassing Slide: A less filthy but recognizable - in the middle of Edward d'Eath's slides is an upside-down picture of a vase of delphiniums.
    • Another contains a Stealth Pun. He shows the "bust" of a past noblewoman, presumably meaning a statue of her head and shoulders. "More of her face, however, would show..."
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The book pulls one of these on the reader (and Corporal Carrot). We're introduced to Angua, a new female recruit to the Night Watch, very much a Boy's Club. Both Vimes and Colon complain about her being the worst of the new recruits brought in to diversify the Watch, because she's "a w—" before being interrupted by an explosion. As it turns out, they're complaining about her being a werewolf.
  • Evil Weapon: The Gonne.
  • Exact Words: Carrot talks his way into the Fools' Guild with the implied threat of "If you refuse to let us in, I shall have to carry out my orders." The order was to give up and leave.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Analysed. Vimes muses that gonnes would change the world because, instead of simply storing the power of your own muscles like crossbows, they 'give you power from outside' - the comparison to magic is obvious, and just as wizards try to restrict the availability of magic, assassins hate the gonne as it would make killing so easy. So there are forces actively keeping gonnes from becoming available.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Arguably, Vimes and Angua to Carrot, as this is the most Carrot-centric story in the Discworld series. Just goes to show an Ishmael can still be badass.
  • Five-Token Band: One male human who was raised (er, figuratively speaking) as a dwarf, one actual dwarf, one troll, one female werewolf, and one Nobby Nobbs (disqualified from the human race for shoving). Lampshaded, as the nonhumans were hired due to affirmative action. Vimes and Colon are the only normal people on the Watch, and that's using "normal" loosely.
  • Foreshadowing: After Colon and Nobby (while playing cards) have discussed the Arthurian pull-a-sword-from-a-stone legend and considered it insufficient to become king-

Colon: A man who could shove a sword into a stone, though, he's a king.
Nobby: A man like that'd be an ace.


Colon: Vimes? Do you want another drink?
Vimes: (incoherent mumbling)
Colon: I've never known him not to give a loud clear "Yes"!

  • I'm Thinking It Over: "Dwarfs are very attached to gold. Any highwayman demanding 'Your money or your life' had better bring a folding chair and packed lunch and a book to read while the debate goes on."
  • Impoverished Patrician: the d'Eath family.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Carrot, specifically when he stuns Vimes with the phrase "Personal isn't the same as important."
    • Then again, he suspected that the bullets (not being silver) wouldn't be enough to kill her. A better example would be when he picks up the gonne, which had previously taken the minds of every person who touched it, and even those aware of its poisonous influence could not bring themselves to destroy such a perfect, unique weapon. Carrot crushes it against a wall, instantly and effortlessly.
  • Incredibly Lame Pune or Play on Words: "Fingers-Mazda, the first thief in the world, stole fire from the gods. But he was unable to fence it. It was too hot."
    • "He really got burned on that deal." (One gets the impression Pterry just couldn't stop himself.)
    • Bjorn, the dwarf who believes in reincarnation. Meaning he'll be Bjorn-again. Made more hilarious the fact that the one making the comment is Death, and he's saying it to a race that generally doesn't understand figures of speech, puns, etc.
    • On Vimes's retirement gift: "A Watch from, your Old Freinds in the Watch" (sic)
    • After Cuddy explains about Detritus' brain-cooling helmet-mounted fan to Colon: "Oh, so now we've got a clockwork soldier? We're a real model army, we are". (Also a reference to Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, and Vimes' ancestor Old Stoneface is a Captain Ersatz of Cromwell).
  • In Harm's Way
  • Inner Monologue: Parodied. After Carrot chases a wolf out of his bedroom, his inner voice chews him out for driving away the one he loves. No, wait, it's Gaspode.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Angua pulls it off a couple of times, although (Angua being Angua) it's implied that she might just be winding the listeners up. You can hear the others thinking "Heh Heh, You Said "X"" from the other side of the fourth wall.

Colon: Forward, Lance-Constable Angua. Tell me, Lance-Constable, do you think you could kill a man?
Angua: How long will I have?

  • It's Personal: Subverted: "But personal isn't the same as important."
    • Beano the clown isn't comforted when Edward d'Earth says his death was "nothing personal." In fact, that makes him feel even worse - he died for what amounts to no reason.
  • Jerkass Facade: Sam Vimes
  • "Join the Army," They Said
  • Just Between You and Me: Analysed when Vimes muses that if you're held at swordpoint, hope like hell that your captor is an evil man - because he'll talk, and gloat, and you have time to think of an escape. But a good man will kill you with barely a word... which, indeed, Carrot does to Cruces at the end.
  • Keep the Reward: subversion
  • Kick the Dog: Literally, leading to the Cool and Unusual Punishment above.
  • Killed Off for Real: Cuddy
  • Killer Rabbit: Big Fido, the psychotic Nazi-esque toy poodle
    • Note that small militaristic dogs aren't that unusual. See, for example, this poodle.
  • King in the Mountain
  • Locked in a Freezer: Cuddy and Detritus, literally. This just results in Cuddy's learning about a) Detritus's Genius Bruiser status when it's cold and b) what it's like to be thrown through a window.
    • Interestingly, Detritus mentions he had worked in the Pork Futures Warehouse previously, but was fired for being too stupid.
  • Lonely Funeral
  • Madness Mantra: (In an inner monologue form) "It was like being a god".
  • Magnetic Hero: Very subtly played out with Carrot, and part of what attracts Angua to him.
    • It also gets Deconstructed a bit too, in that Carrot doesn't really like the idea of people following his lead simply because it's him.
  • Medieval Stasis: Like Moving Pictures and Soul Music, the book involves an invention threatening to break the Disc's stasis, but the Reset Button is pressed at the end. Arguably Soul Music is the last time in the series that this trope is played straight, with later inventions like semaphore lines (the Clacks), the printing press, postage stamps and (presumably) paper money sticking around.
    • The actual gonne even remains, despite Reset Button, in the form of the "spring-gonne" crossbow.
  • Metasyntactic Variable: Employed and then identified by name by Gaspode at one point:

"... Clothing has never been what you might call a thingy of dog wossname." Gaspode scratched his ear. "Two metasyntactic variables there. Sorry."


Didn't you used to be the town crier?


"You killed Bjorn Hammerhock! The boy said you fired yourself! And he'd repaired you!"
You expect gratitude? He would have made another gonne.

  • Noodle Incident: In one of the other universes, "Corporal Carrot became Sergeant Carrot and, in the fullness of time, died in uniform aged seventy in an unlikely accident involving an anteater." And a localised hurricane painted the Watch-House pastel (as well as fixing a window and doing some other odd jobs around the place).
    • A few pages later, a minor character is said to have died when an anteater fell on his head, so perhaps the same incident happened to Carrot in the other timeline.
  • Not So Omniscient After All: When Vetinari is shot. Vimes' inner monologue says that he feels as though the very fabric of history is breaking up from being confronted with the invincible Magnificent Bastard bleeding at his feet.
    • Vetinari seems to be considerably off his game throughout this story. Whether he actually is or not is never directly specified, though tantalising inferences can be made by reading Feet of Clay.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat
  • Offhand Backhand
  • Off the Wagon: Still early in his resolution to become teetotaler (made at Sybil's insistence), poor Vimes falls prey to temptation in the face of his impending retirement.
  • Oh Crap: When Detritus recovers from his Heroic BSOD, he gets up and proceeds to the Assassin's Guild with bloody murder in mind. It is then we learn that some of the best trained killers in Anhk-Morpork have absolutely no way of dealing with a Troll... and they learn it too.
    • Specifically, they have no way to fight a troll head-on. An assassin in Soul Music was confident he could kill a troll by surprise if he hit the right spot in the back of its neck.
      • Fridge Brilliance: Soul Music happens after the events of Men at Arms. The assassins probably figured out the back-of-the-neck thing because the Detritus made them realise how helpless they were against Trolls.
    • When Colon orders two other Trolls to try and stop Detritus, they request time off to go to their grandmother's funerals. As one put it, "It her or me sir."
    • Then there's Vetinari when he realises he's miscalculated his pushing of Vimes' buttons (previously in the book, Vimes always punches the wall outside Vetinari's office in anger after leaving).

Vetinari: ...Oh, no. He didn't hit the wall. I may have gone too far.

  • Only a Flesh Wound: Lord Vetinari attempts to invoke this trope when he is shot in the leg. He fails. (Evidence that the gonne really was a Game Breaker, as Vetinari was never wounded or incapacitated before.)

'There's no need,' said Vetinari, trying to smile and stand up. 'It's just a flesh-'
The leg collapsed under him.

  • Painting the Fourth Wall: Edward D'eath can think in italics. Such people need watching.
    • Preferably from a safe distance.
  • Power Born of Madness: Big Fido.
  • Pretend Prejudice: Vimes is a self-described speciesist, but with the caveat that he isn't too crazy about humans, either. But when he hears an Upper Class Twit go on about how terrible trolls and dwarfs are (despite never meeting one of either in his life), Vimes makes a series of outrageously prejudiced and contradictory comments to make the nodding nobles look like idiots.
    • Meta example: the reader is led to believe that Vimes objects to Angua joining the watch because she's a woman. It's really because she's a werewolf.
  • Prophecy Twist: Nobby and Colon are discussing Royal Blood prophecies such as the king being able to pull a sword from a stone. Colon argues that being able to shove a sword into a stone is a more impressive feat. Then at the end, Carrot stabs his sword through Cruces as he has his back to a stone pillar, and when he withdraws it there's a perfect rectangular slot all the way through...
  • Putting on My Thinking Cap: Justified with Detritus' hat, which has a fan in it to keep his brain cool.
  • Repeat After Me: The Watchmen's Oath. Good lord, the Watchmen's Oath.
  • A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside An Enigma: When the clowns ask Colon to search for their late compatriot's real nose, despite the fact he had one, Vimes, reading the report, reflects that "the whole nose business looked like a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma, or at least in Sergeant Colon's handwriting, which was pretty much the same thing".
  • Room Full of Crazy: When Detritus is locked in the freezer, he starts working out maths problems. He gets all the way through calculus and out the other side, and was probably up to a Unified Theory of Everything when they got him out and the warmth erased all his work, which he promptly forgot.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Cuddy.
  • Save the Villain: Gaspode tries this, and lampshades it. He nearly winds up falling to his death along with Big Fido.
  • Science Marches On: Big Fido's "all dogs are wolves" spiel, and the other dogs' reactions to it, become particularly Hilarious in Hindsight because right about the time the book came out, dogs were reclassified from the separate species canis familiaris to the subspecies canis lupus familiaris, making every dog a wolf. Yes, even a poodle.
  • Shout-Out: The Patrician sits in a plain chair at the foot of the steps leading up to the ancient golden throne of Ankh-Morpork, taken from the Steward's seat in The Lord of the Rings. However, at the end Carrot learns that the throne is actually just gold foil over wood, the real gold having been sold long before. As usual on Discworld, it's belief that's important.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: "After a while, the bedsprings went glink."
  • Shut UP, Hannibal
  • Smug Snake: Captain Quirke of the Day Watch. Don't worry, he gets a hilarious comeuppance.
  • Something Only They Would Say: In this case, Something Only They Would Do. Vetinari realises he's gone too far when he tries to invoke the Turn in Your Badge trope, when he notices that Vimes didn't punch the wall after he left. (Which is what he usually does when he's angry and determined.)
  • Standing Between the Enemies: Carrot had a truly epic example when he successfully shamed two armies of trolls and dwarves. They were ready to rip each other apart until he came and basically told them that their dear old mothers would not be proud. When it works, the other Watch members are astounded and a little alarmed.
  • Still the Leader: Vimes, although Carrot gets a lot more respect than he really wants...
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Detritus tries to stop the dwarf/troll street fight with this.
  • Sword Over Head
  • Tap on the Head: Subverted. It accidentally kills someone.
  • The Ishmael
  • Throw the Book At Them: How To Kille Insects
  • Thwarted Coup De Grace: Vimes with Cruces.
  • Tranquil Fury
  • Turn in Your Badge: NO.
  • Understatement: Carrot's reaction to losing his virginity to Angua.

It had been an interesting night.


Lord Vetinari stood up as he saw the Watch running towards him. That was why the first shot went through his thigh, instead of his chest.

Then Carrot cleared the door of the carriage and flung himself across the man, which is why the next shot went through Carrot.

    • And of course Carrot's "Personal isn't the same as important".
  • A Worldwide Punomenon: As usual in Discworld, but a particularly memorable pair:

"The Ramkins were more highly bred than a hilltop bakery, whereas Corporal Nobbs had been disqualified from the human race for shoving."

  • You Get What You Pay For: The foundation of the "Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness".
  • You Know What They Say About X... - it takes Cuddy a while to find out what they say about dwarfs, and he apparently never really understands what is meant by "well-endowed."
    • When he first hears it he says it's true. Why, he himself has saved more than seventy-eight dollars!