Two gods, Fate, and the Lady, oppose each other in a game over the outcome of the struggle for the throne of the Agatean Empire on the Counterweight Continent.
The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork receives a demand that the "Great Wizzard" be sent to the distant Agatean Empire, and he orders Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully of Unseen University to comply. As the spelling, "Wizzard," matches that on Rincewind's hat, the faculty decide to send him. Using the machine Hex, which has seemingly been augmenting its own infrastructure, they teleport him to the University from a desert island where he has been living since the events of Eric . They offer him the right to call himself a Wizard, which he never actually earned, if he will let them send him to Agatea; he agrees. Teleportation requires an exchange of mass, and they end up exchanging him with a very heavy live cannon (which they extinguish upon its arrival); this results in Rincewind arriving in Agatea at a very high speed, but he lands safely in a snowbank.
As is typical for Rincewind, his dedicated efforts to run from any kind of danger quickly embroil him in momentous events, and coincidence makes it appear on several occasions that Rincewind is responsible for significant feats of magic. He encounters his friend Cohen the Barbarian, now accompanied by a "Silver Horde" of elderly warriors, who is planning to infiltrate the Empire and live a luxurious retirement by taking over as Emperor. Rincewind eventually learns that the first Agatean Emperor supposedly conquered the land with the assistance of a "Great Wizard" and a "Red Army." Now, a new "Red Army" movement of young people, dedicated mainly to the promulgation of mildly worded slogans, has been inspired by a supposed revolutionary tract, which turns out to be a travelogue of Ankh-Morpork written by Rincewind's erstwhile traveling companion, Twoflower, whom Rincewind ends up freeing from a dungeon and whose two daughters are leaders of the Red Army. It turns out that the villainous Grand Vizier, Lord Hong, has made the harmless Red Army appear to be a threat to the Empire and had Rincewind brought to Agatea so that he could blame the problems on foreigners, then put the "revolution" down violently and turn to the conquest of Ankh-Morpork, whose culture he secretly seeks to emulate. But when Hong murders the Emperor with the intention of framing the Red Army, it inadvertently creates the opportunity needed by the Silver Horde, who have infiltrated the palace. Cohen and Ronald Saveloy, a member of the Horde who is a retired schoolteacher, had hoped to conquer the Empire by simply installing Cohen as Emperor, since almost nobody has ever seen the Emperor's face. But Lord Hong leads four other lords who had been vying against him for the throne to rally their armies against the Horde, to the chagrin of Saveloy who had been trying to civilize the barbarians.
As the battle begins, Rincewind flees and inadvertently discovers the actual Red Army, a multitude of terra cotta warriors that can be controlled by magical armor that he accidentally dons. The automatons destroy the Agatean forces. However, Rincewind inadvertently wanders into a terracotta ditch and sinks up to his thighs, but realises that the magic boots are weighing him down, and frees himself with Twoflower's help. Once Cohen realizes that he is now recognized as the Emperor, he prepares proclamations to relax the regime's oppression of the people. He invites Rincewind to serve as Chief Wizard and found his own university, which convinces Rincewind that something horrible is about to happen. Indeed, Lord Hong takes Rincewind hostage and plans to murder him on the steps of the palace. But, just then, the faculty of Unseen University teleport Rincewind away. Twoflower challenges Hong to a duel, as his wife was killed in a battle waged by Hong. The cannon, re-lit by the faculty, then arrives and kills both Hong and Saveloy; Saveloy, despite never having managed to be a barbarian in life, decides to go to the warrior's afterlife.
The Luggage had followed Rincewind to its native Agatea, but became distracted by meeting and mating with a female Luggage. Upon Rincewind's disappearance, the Luggage leaves its mate and their offspring to once again follow its owner.
The Lady has won the game against Fate. And she interfered in Hex's calculations so that Rincewind is teleported to the unexplored continent of XXXX where he lands safely, while a XXXXian kangaroo (instead of Rincewind) suffers a fatal collision with a wall at Unseen University. Rincewind meets XXXXian natives who give him a boomerang, with which he manages to hit himself in the head.