Melee/Close Combat Weapons
Close-range armed conflict — also known as melee combat — is rare in an age of high tech weapons. Few are willing to risk personal injury if they can avoid it, so close combat (in which personal injury is almost guaranteed) is generally left to combat remotes and those that want it. But there are a few advanced civilizationss that prize skill in close combat. There are also Old Worlder and Cargo Cults that contain resources of interest to more technologically adept cultures, and it's not always possible to carry obviously advanced weapons into such places. Or some of the Cargo Cults may have developed these independently. Anyone who travels in dangerous areas is wise to carry weapons, and having last-ditch defenses for when one's primary weapons run out of ammunition or power is a good policy. There are even places where melee combat is practiced for cultural reasons, or for sport. It is for all of these reasons that advanced melee weapons exist.
Most advanced melee weapons would be familiar to most humans since they have invented surprisingly few new categories of close combat weapons. Instead they used the best technology available to improve existing melee weapons. Most enhancements fall within a few broad categories; various cultures differ in their preferences for specific enhancements or combinations thereof and in the details of how a particular type of enhancement is applied (that is, the exact technology involved). The most common improvements to close combat weapons are as follows. Some of these enhancements have also been applied to missile and thrown weapons such as arrows and shuriken.
This is the least technologically advanced and often the most cost effective means of enhancing a melee weapon. Many weapons benefit from being made of stronger materials even if the improvement is limited to the striking surfaces. Bladed weapons get a sizeable performance boost from being made of high-grade alloys or from careful design and construction. Compared to a blade made of the high carbon steels used before the Steam Age, a blade made of vanadium steel will have greater tensile strength, better resistance to thermal shock and superior ability to hold an edge. An axe handle made of high-impact plastic can be lighter than a wooden one, thereby making the weapon both easier and safer to wield (less risk of shaft breakage). Even something as simple as precision machining to grind a finer edge or personalized ergonomic design for superior balance can greatly improve a weapon's performance.
So-called 'mono-edge' weapons use micro-technology to produce efficient cutting surfaces only one molecule thick. Among the most advanced types of construction is that of a diamondoid weapon, which consists of diamond cutting surfaces bonded to a light substrate (usually superplastic, ceramoplastic or metalloceramic). Some diamondoid weapons are also 'mono-edged.' An unusual variant of advanced construction is the application of muscle-mimicking plastics (myo-mimetic polymers, or myomers). A myomer-enhanced weapon can be made flexible or rigid. Selective contraction of the artificial muscles can also amplify the force of a blow.
The most advanced form of advanced construction is nanotech. Nanotech close combat weapons have some amazing capabilities that go beyond the properties of the materials. The simplest are merely self- repairing and/or self-sharpening. Others can reposition individual nano-components so as to redistribute the weapon's mass (one configuration for carrying and another for fighting) or change its size (smaller for concealment, larger for fighting). There are also polymorphic weapons that can be reconfigured for maximum effectiveness (i.e. increasing density to penetrate armor or extending reach against taller opponents), changed in shape inside the target (to make wounds more severe) or even maneuvered around an obstacle.
Can increase the Stringtech damage rating by 1 or 2.
Equipping a weapon with a power supply and conductive striking surfaces is one of the most common enhancements. Electric close combat weapons generally have insulated grips to protect the user. Many also have dead-man switches to shut off the current in case the wielder is disarmed. Weapons that deliver a simple electrical shock are fairly primitive, but they are particularly effective against unshielded cyborgs and remotes. Most prefer the sophistication of phased neuro-current (an electric pulse of the proper frequency can disrupt or stimulate nerve impulses, equally effective against organic and electronic nervous systems). This can cause disorientation, paralysis or intense pain. The effects wear off quickly but the wielder will usually have enough time to flee or deliver a follow-up attack. Most electric weapons are designed to incapacitate rather than kill. This makes them popular with law enforcement agencies. Sub-lethal electric weapons are also legal for personal self-defense almost everywhere. Electric weapons are not entirely benevolent, however. There are confirmed reports of some variants being used as instruments of torture — a weapon that doesn't cause lasting physical damage can be used to inflict pain for a long time.
Can increase the Stringtech damage rating to 4, and possibly higher if the user is crazed enough - up to Stringtech 8 simulating a lightning strike.
Miniaturized processors and sensors that can withstand the stress of hitting a target can be built into weapons. Computronium is ideal for this application, though there are also less advanced technologies in use. The technical term for this enhancement is bellonics.
A bellonic system can fulfill a variety of functions. The simplest is to provide a readout of the weapon's condition. The onboard processor can warn the wielder of metal fatigue, corrosion, thermal shock, dulled edges, etc. Bellonics are most powerful when combined with other enhancements. A processor can make electrical or vibrational emitters more efficient by choosing the frequency that is most effective against a particular target. Thermal-enhanced weapons can have automatic shutoffs to counteract heat conduction (following). The most spectacular application of bellonics is in combination with nanotechnology. Automatic control of polymorphic weapons' shape shifts makes all such functions faster and more efficient.
Some "smart" weapons can recognize their owners — usually by DNA or neural patterns — and can automatically activate defenses to prevent unauthorized use. Handles that burn or shock the thief are the most common. Others have IFF (Identify Friend and Foe) capability that deactivates other enhancements if the weapon is turned against its owner or his allies. Some polymorphic weapons even have the ability to turn themselves on an unauthorized user.
Typically requires Cognitech 4+ and Nanotech 4+, plus at least a Data Ghost or Familiar.
This particular enhancement is usually applied to blunt weapons. A power supply and some well-placed heating elements can heat a weapon's striking surfaces to dangerous levels. The main impact of this is psychological; almost everyone fears getting burned, and even cyborgs or remotes may have heat-sensitive components. A sufficiently hot weapon will cauterize any wound that it makes. This will sometimes be a boon to the target in that it will minimize bleeding, but the resulting scar tissue tends to complicate healing. The heat from a thermal-enhanced weapon might even destroy medical nanites at the site of the wound. Heated melee weapons can often ignite volatile chemicals on contact, but this is as big as risk to the wielder as it is to the target. Thermal weapons are illegal in the more humane polities.
Thermal weapons have one serious drawback; the heat from the striking surface eventually conducts to the handle. Even insulated grips and shaft materials chosen for low thermal conductivity only allow the weapon to remain in continuous use for a few minutes at a time. Striking surfaces made of materials with high thermal conductivity can decrease the amount of cool-down time needed between uses. High heat conductance also lets the weapon warm up to operating temperature quickly. Some thermal-enhanced weapons have powered cooling systems built into the grips and/or shafts.
Can increase the damage rating to Stringtech 6.
It is possible to place an AC power supply, a circuit that controls the frequency of the current and a small piezoelectric device into a weapon's handle. The effect is different for edged and blunt weapons. An edged weapon vibrating at 1-2 kHz cuts more efficiently. This is particularly deadly when applied to a serrated blade or a mono-edge. For a blunt weapon the enhancement generates an infra- or ultrasonic wave that constructively interferes with the shock wave created by the weapon's impact. This effectively gives a blunt weapon penetrating capacity as the shock wave travels into the target to possibly burst circulatory vessels, internal organs or delicate machine components. Vibrations of the correct frequency can also destroy many types of nanotech on contact.
Can increase the damage rating to Stringtech 5.
Much of this is baroque - too elaborate to be really practical in a fight. Some though may be more useful than others, like advanced construction which is simple and doesn't rely on a battery, or computer to be useful.
Players are advised to use their characters' judgement and GM's to use the Law of Murphy, especially Murphy's Laws of Combat …
There are hundreds of types of advanced close combat weapons in use. A few examples appear below. Each includes a notation of how many different polities employ weapons of that type, written in the following format:
- Common: found throughout a large volume of settled space
- Uncommon: distributed across a limited but fairly large area (i.e. a single civilization), or widely distributed and not in widespread use
- Rare: found only in a few closely related civilizations or societies, or used by very few people over a large area
- Unique: used only in one civilization or society
Then its Tech level, Cost and Descriptors
Boomstick: This is a club or baton with vibration capability. Variants can have any combination of three settings. The first setting induces painful muscle cramps in bionts. This can disable a limb or incapacitate someone completely with a torso strike. This setting makes boomsticks common among law enforcement agencies. The second setting emits a low-frequency pulse that can burst a biont's internal organs or blood vessels. The third setting creates an ultrasonic pulse that can shatter semiconductor or crystalline components — this setting is mainly useful against remotes, cyborgs and some nanotech agents. A boomstick increases in price with the number of settings that it has.
Lowest damage is rated at Stringtech 3, with the highest being Stringtech 5.
Tech Level: String 3 for single setting Boomsticks, String 4 for Boomsticks with multiple settings
Chemknife: Advanced construction places a hollow duct within a knife blade; this essentially turns the knife into a giant hypodermic needle. The handle contains a low-pressure piston and a fluid reservoir. Upon activation the piston drives the fluid through the duct and into the victim. The usual payload is a toxin or disease agent, but corrosives have been used for anti-cyborg or remote applications. Suspended nanotech agents are equally effective against both artificials and bionts. Chemknives can be made with only medium tech, and assassins on medium tech worlds have been known to use them.
Damage is rated at Stringtech 2 for the knife. The damage for the poison depends on the payload.
Tech Level: Stringtech 3 for the knife, Biotech 2+ for drugs or poisons, Nanotech 6+ for phages
Cost: Public Domain
Constrictor: Applying myomer to a lasso creates a weapon that not only holds the target, it is able to squeeze. This can take the form of simple crushing force, or it can be true constriction - applying small amounts of additional pressure to the diaphragm whenever the target exhales so as to gradually make inhalation impossible - with the addition of onboard bellonic processing. Constrictors are made of high-strength plastics and sometimes reinforced with wire; only the strongest humans can break out of one (Biotech 10+, Stringtech 4+).
Damage is rated at Stringtech 4.
Tech Level: Nanotech 5, Cognitech 4
Demon Weapon: some weapons with onboard processors have enough computing power and sufficiently complex software to be host familiars. Demon weapons may have their own motivations and agendas, which may or may not coincide with the desires of a wielder - especially if they are hosting a Bonsai or Scout. All demon weapons have some sort of damage enhancement, IFF capability and anti-tampering defenses (many have polymorphic handles that extrude spikes when gripped by an unauthorized user — and the weapon decides whether or not a user is authorized). Most have one or more other enhancements as well.
Damage is rated at Stringtech 4.
Tech Level: Cognitech 4+, Nanotech 5+ (minor shapeshifting, advanced materials), Stringtech 4+ (advanced materials)
Cost: Low, but recurring
Flex Lance: A flex lance combines advanced construction (a myomer or polymorphic shaft) with a high-speed onboard processor. This allows the weapon to bend around a parry or even to strike a target that is around a corner (as long as the target is within reach and the wielder can sense the target). All but the cheapest are mono- edged, and the most expensive models have vibration capability.
Damage is rated at Stringtech 4.
Tech Level: Nanotech 5, Cognitech 4
Holosword: Onboard bellonic processing combined with holographic imagers makes this a surprisingly dangerous weapon - to those with Nanotech 3 or less. The holographic projectors create multiple moving images of the weapon and the appendage wielding it. The resolution is quite blurry, but that is irrelevant for this application. The purpose is to make the weapon's exact location harder to pinpoint, thus making attacks with the holosword harder to dodge or parry.
More advanced versions use remotes and spoofing technologies to confuse higher Nanotech capabilities.
The sword's fragility relative to other advanced melee weapons makes it unpopular; a low-quality weapon can have its imaging optics knocked out of alignment after less than a minute of combat. Holoswords are mainly used by eccentric hobbyists or in ritual duels.
The game effect of this weapon is that it adds +2 to Soldier (or other relevant Profession).
Damage is rated at Stringtech 3 (unless enhanced with further options).
Tech Level: Stringtech 4+ (compact holographic imagers), Cognitech 3+ (computer), Nanotech 4 (remotes plus spoofing)
Hotrod: This weapon is a simple club or mace with heated striking surfaces. The shaft and head are designed for optimal thermal conductivity (high for the head, very low for the shaft) and the grip has active cooling. Some custom models have raised designs that can brand a biont target if kept in contact with flesh long enough.
Damage is rated at Stringtech 4.
Tech Level: Stringtech 4.
Cost: Public Domain
Ifrit: The ifrit is one of the few completely new types of close combat weapon. This nanotech derived device is normally worn disguised as a vest or other article of clothing. When activated it becomes deadly form of utility fog, forming a whirling cloud of micro-flechettes. The cloud is a cylinder that extends about half a meter from the wielder's body, and it can project "pseudopods" that extend up to four times that distance in response to the wielder's arm or leg movements. Using an ifrit without flaying one's allies as well as enemies takes great skill; the battle katas of ifriti-masters are often compared to dance. The most advanced (and expensive) variants have IFF capability. Like all utility fog an ifrit is vulnerable to high winds, and most versions can be disrupted by electrical or sonic discharges. An ifrit will not function underwater. The greatest weakness of the ifrit is its prodigious power requirements. Some versions employ high-yield super-conducting capacitor belts, or even inversion power sources. A wielder who has access to a ship or installation can run an ifrit off of broadcast power, but this can be interfered with in a variety of ways. Capacitor or inversion power backup for broadcast power variants is standard.
A ifrit has enough onboard processing power to identify and catch low-mass projectiles and hostile nano agents. Anything that the ifrit catches can either be expelled (harmlessly or as an attack).
Ifrit damage is rated at Stringtech 5.
Tech Level: Nanotech 6, Stringtech 5 for superconducting capacitors, or Stringtech 7 for inversion power
Memory Blade: The simplest nanotech weapon — usually a knife — has a blade that can be triggered to assume a spiky "sea urchin" configuration while inside the target. This inflicts vicious internal wounds. Variants with onboard processing can be set to expand automatically upon penetration and to contract when pulled out. The smartest will only allow an authorized user to remove the weapon. Some memory blades have alternate forms that allow them to be worn as belts, stylii, purses or bracelets when not in use. The possibilites of their alternate form are only limited by the mass of the weapon and what it is supposed to be duplicating.
More advanced Memory Blades include spoofing technologies to make them resemble the item they are imitating to scans.
Damage rating is Stringtech 2.
Tech Level: Nanotech 4 for basic ones, Nanotech 5 for advanced.
Cost: Low for basic ones, Nanotech 5 for advanced
Monowhip: Whips are simple weapons that do little damage except in the hands of a skilled user. Applying a diamondoid mono-edge striking tip makes a whip far more dangerous.
A Monowhip has a damage rating of Stringtech 3.
Tech Level: Nanotech 3
Cost: Public Domain
Myomer Glove/Pauldron: Someone wearing a myomer glove has enough grip strength to crush rocks or bones and can even deform light metals. Myomer gloves have hardened striking surfaces and internal padding to protect the wearer's hands. They are also used as climbing equipment.
A myomer pauldron — which includes a myomer glove — covers the wearer's entire arm and shoulder. The wearer can punch with extreme force. The pauldron can also be armored. While a myomer pauldron would allow increased lifting capacity, this is not recommended if the wearer's legs and back aren't somehow braced to handle the additional stress.
Myomer Glove has a Stringtech rating of 3. The Pauldron has one of 4.
Tech Level: Nanotech 5
Painstick (a.k.a. Nervelash, Neuronic Whip): a painstick is a baton with an insulated handgrip. The striking surface delivers a phased neural shock that causes extreme pain in bionts. One setting works for almost all humans and biological life. The target is typically incapacitated for several seconds. An unusual variant of this weapon is the joystick, which overwhelms the target with pleasure instead of pain. Joysticks are often suggestively shaped as a testament to their uses outside of combat.
A painstick has a damage rating of Stringtech 4. A joystick has one of 7 and functions as an emotion beam (SA p138), save that it is a melee weapon.
Tech Level: Stringtech 4 for a Painstick. Stringtech 7 for a Joystick.
Power Knife/Power Spear: The business end of this weapon is an electric drill that adds rotary cutting action to the wielder's efforts. The drill bit is often diamond-coated for added hardness. Variants that employ nanotechnology and onboard processors can reconfigure the bit to provide optimum cutting surfaces against different materials. Such a weapon can start out as armor piercing and switch to a more efficient bit for cutting flesh after it penetrates the armor. The rotary action also increases internal damage; the wielder need not twist the blade because it twists itself.
Some variants of this enhancement use a chainsaw-type arrangement instead of a drill. These don't penetrate as effectively as drill weapons but often do even worse damage — it's easy for a power saw to sever a limb or eyestalk, for example.
Many complain that all power knives and spears are difficult to use due to torque and gyroscopic forces and best suited for tree trimming.
Damage is rated at Stringtech 4 for either variation.
Tech Level: Stringtech 4
Shockrod (a.k.a. Stingstick): This is a simple baton or club modified to deliver a powerful electric shock. It is equally effective against bionts and uninsulated artificials. The grip is fully insulated against the weapon's effects.
A shockrod's lowest damage rating is Stringtech 4, and stops at Stringtech 8.
Tech Level: Stringtech 4, increasing by +1 for each +1 to damage.
Smartwhip: Applying myomer to a whip creates a swift, powerful tentacle that responds to the wielder's commands. A smartwhip can amplify the force of a strike (by selectively contracting appropriate sections) or grasp targeted items. A skilled user can easily disarm or strangle an opponent. Some smartwhips are also monowhips. It is strongly suggested that users also acquire a Neural Mesh for rapid and effective use of a smartwhip.
The damage rating for a smartwhip is Stringtech 5.
Tech Level: Nanotech 4
Stun Baton (a.k.a. Stunstick, Tingler): The most common electrified melee weapon uses phased neuro-current to induce temporary paralysis (generally up to a minute). The insulated handle protects the weapon's user from the effect. There are different settings for use against bionts and artificials. The most common versions are batons or clubs — hence the name — but the concept is also applied to gloves (stun gloves) and whips (stunwhip). Stun batons and their cousins are very common law enforcement weapons and are equally popular with those who prefer non-lethal self-defense options.
The damage rating for a stun baton (and its relations) is Stringtech 4.
Tech Level: Stringtech 4
Universal Weapon: This utility fog derived weapon is used throughout a wide volume of space; only its expense makes it rare. A Universal Weapon can assume the shape of any normal melee weapon of equal or lesser mass; most are heavy enough to form polearms. A Universal Weapon has an onboard database of close combat weapons and a "quick select" option that allows the user to program favorites for one- button activation. When in a smaller configuration or when not in use the weapon disperses its surplus mass as a utility fog surrounding the wielder. This makes it lighter for carrying and easier to conceal. Some versions place the excess mass as body armor instead, and many prefer to wear the device as armor that extrudes a weapon on demand. Many variants of Universal Weapon have the same internal damage capacity as memory blades, and some can manifest as paired weapons or as a weapon and a shield. A Universal Weapon maintains a link to its user and to its unused mass at all times. If the wielder is disarmed the utility fog automatically forms a tether and pulls the weapon back to the user's hand.
The damage rating for a universal weapon is Stringtech 4 to 6.
Frequency: Rare to Unique
Tech Level: Nanotech
Vibroblade: a vibroblade uses ultrasonic vibrations to enhance its cutting action, and many are also diamond-coated and/or mono-edged. Vibroswords are rare because the blades are prone to snapping. Most vibroblades are knives, spears or axes. Variants with onboard processors can adjust the frequency to that which is most effective against the material at hand.
The damage rating for a vibroblade sword is Stringtech 5.
Tech Level: Stringtech 4, Nanotech 4