Non-Magical Counters in the Mistborn Trilogy
Welcome to Part 5 of Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy
There are so many cool things you can do with your magic system, it boggles the mind. At least it boggles my mind. One risk you run with any magic system is the creation of overpowered or unstoppable characters, point-of-view character or not.
The best way I have found to resolve this problem is to include mundane, non-magical ways for ordinary people to fight back against those with magic. Such checks and balances allow for powerful magic without ruining the tension or danger in the story. Unsurprisingly, Brandon Sanderson pulled this off admirably in The Mistborn Trilogy.
Originally, I was just going to talk at you like I always do, but then I stumbled across something interesting.
Hidden deep in the dark places of the world, I found an old, tattered pamphlet written in a strange script. After translating a portion of the text, you can imagine my surprise to learn it was, in fact, a small manual with simple instructions on how to survive a Mistborn attack.
Rather than simply extol the merits of a Mistborn’s magic, I have provided a translation for the pamphlet below. I did my best, but couldn’t stop myself from smoothing the translation in places. Therefore, while it may not be an exact translation, I feel it does convey the spirit of the text.
**Disclaimer: This “pamphlet” is a work of fiction and is not written by, verified by, or otherwise connected to Brandon Sanderson. This is purely for entertainment and instructional purposes. If upon reading it you find yourself filled with an untameable rage and/or indignation, you are encouraged to stick your head in a lake; I had fun writing it. *Blows Rasberry*
How to Face a Mistborn
A Soldier’s Guide to Survival
I’m not one to mince words, so let me be perfectly clear: the only purpose of these instructions is to keep you alive. Honor, pride, and duty all take a back seat when facing a Mistborn.
Rule #1) RUN!
If the option is available, you run! You run, you hide, you play dead… pretty much anything to avoid being noticed by the monster soaring through the mist. I don’t care if you’re a Plantation Skaa or a son of the Lord Ruler himself, your parentage will do nothing to protect you from the metal and glass onslaught of a Mistborn’s attacks.
True, your House Lord or captain may have you executed for dereliction of duty, but the possibility of execution is still preferable to the certainty of painful bloody death on the walls. After a Mistborn attack, no Lord — save perhaps Lord Venture — would willingly execute their remaining soldiers.
I’d bet my glass eye the worst you’ll get is a flogging.
Rule #2) Raise the Alarm
If you can’t run and hide, then someone needs to raise the alarm… Might as well be you.
If any of the lads in your group are going survive, they will need the help any house allomancers or hazekillers you can muster.
Act quickly and with “bravery” and you never know. You might get promoted to a less dangerous position for your “clear head” and “prompt action.”
Plus, if you’re raising the alarm, you’ve got a good reason to be running away from that foul Mistborn. This can make you a bit of a target, however, so maybe be more subtle than running to the keep screaming “Mistborn!” loud enough to wake the Lord Ruler.
Rule #3) Keep Your Gear “Mistborn Ready”
Metal armor and weapons are well and good against other soldiers, but they’ll do nothing but get you killed when a Mistborn comes sailing in.
Where possible, equip your armor and weapons with some kind of quick-release mechanism. Unless you want an unexpected lesson in flying. Being ready to drop all your metal at a moment’s notice can save your life. If you don’t look like a threat, an easy target, or an anchor, the Mistborn may just pass you by.
Oh, and know where the emergency weapons are stashed!
Every outpost should be equipped with stone arrowheads for archers and, if your lucky, wooden staves and shields for the hazekiller troops. While not regulation, no officer worth his spit will look twice if you carry a wood cudgel and a bone knife or two.
Rule #4) Don’t Fight Alone
If you’re fighting a Mistborn, you’ve done something very stupid or very wrong!
Didn’t you read the rest of this manual?
You fight when it is your only option! If you must fight, never go at it alone. You’ll get swept away faster than a fart in the wind. Work together. Stay coordinated. Focus on staying alive until friendly allomancyers or hazekillers arrive.
Rule #5) Know Your Options
Is this not what you wanted to hear? You wanted some secret technique that would help you go toe to toe with a Mistborn?
Well, then you’re either too green to know better or an idiot.
The only hope you have of ever killing a Mistborn is through total surprise, which you won’t get when they come sailing out of the mist. You might also try trapping them somehow, and I’ve never heard of a Mistborn to getting trapped.
They’re just too damn powerful.
Still not happy? Talk to your commanding officer about Hazekiller training. They always have openings. You know, because they die all the time, fighting Mistborn.
And that’s it. That’s all the advice and training you get for doing something so stupid. Just once more, you see a Mistborn, you run.
*Don’t let your superiors or any of the lords find this manual. These instructions are just for us expendable types and us alone. Lord Ruler knows they won’t think twice about throwing your life away to save themselves.
Consider Non-Magical Counters You Might Use
It’s me again. Wasn’t that just a pleasant as polished silver? Don’t know which officer made that manual, but the advice seems solid to me. *Wink*
The point of all this was to show you some of the non-magical defenses and solutions that Brandon Sanderson included in The Mistborn Trilogy. The Hazekillers are my favorite (soldiers specially trained with dueling cane and shield to fight allomancers) and throughout the series, Brandon comes up with a number of different ways to counter an allomancer’s abilities.
If your magic is especially powerful or violent, it is worth every second of time you spend to come up with non-magical ways to handle it as Brandon did. Without such limitations and countermeasures in place, it is too easy for a character to become unstoppable and overpowered. You can do some cool worldbuilding and plot twists if the only counter for a mage is another mage, but it can also be a bit boring.
Be careful with your counters or you might break your system more than intended.
Brandon ran into this very problem in The Final Empire. Towards the end of the book, Vin takes a dozen stone arrowheads and fits ring metal rings on the shaft behind each head. When she pushes on the ring, the force is transferred to the arrowhead, launching them forward like any of her coins. Only this time, when an allomancer pushes back to stop the projectiles, the rings are shot away while the arrowheads continue on their deadly path.
This is a brilliant and powerful counter that anyone in the Mistborn universe could use against someone capable of pushing on metals. In many ways, it’s even better than the stone arrowheads because the allomancer assumes they can deflect it until it is too late.
Such a game-changing discovery could have altered everything about how people fight Mistborn. Instead of figuring all that out, Brandon simply omitted using the technique for the rest of the series. Which makes me kind of sad, but was probably the best move.
Anyway, try developing non-magical counters for your system and see what happens. Just be sure to place as much scrutiny on your counters as you do on the magic itself or it may break your magic and your story more than intended.
That’s All for Now
Thanks again for coming by. I’ve really enjoyed analyzing Mistborn for all my favorite parts; I hope you’re having fun as well. Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four of the series for more information on the awesome parts of Mistborn; If you want to build a magic system as awesome as Allomancy, I’m right there with you and I’d love to help however I can.
One simple step you can take to improve your magic systems is to sign up for the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List. I’m currently running a special: be the fifth to sign up through this page and I’ll give you a sliver of anti-magic material. Embed this in your chest and nobodies magic will be able to affect you Guaranteed! I usually use magic to send these thing places… so I’ll have to figure out another method somehow.
Anyway, you will still receive monthly updates from me and notifications each time a new post goes live. I’ve got a lot of projects, giveaways, and services I’m planning for in the future, and those on the mailing list will be the first to know.
I hope to see your name on the list, but if not, we’ll still talk soon.