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efreysson
06-16-2016, 02:39 PM
My space opera setting has a considerable amount of swordplay, which I justify in various ways, such as tradition and certain enemies being able to short out energy-based weapons. I just haven't quite worked out how to justify metal blades being able to cut through futuristic armour.

Lightsabers would be too much a ripoff, and I don't want to do the Warhammer 40.000 chainsaw sword thing. Appearance-wise, my swords are ordinary metal swords, worn by nobility as a status symbol.

I got this idea for a throwaway line about the edge consisting of "chaotic molecules" or something, causing a sort of chainsaw effect when it strikes something. Coupled with the swords being made of super-strong sci-fi metal, I think this could work to justify cutting through metal armour, but I would like to hear some opinions.

What do you folks think? Am I overlooking some really simple solution?

waylander
06-16-2016, 03:21 PM
Even metal armour has joints that are weak points. Treat it like medieval plate armour where you mostly did not try to penetrate the plate directly but aimed for the weak points.

PyriteFool
06-16-2016, 03:50 PM
I like waylander's suggestion, especially given the added benefit of describing the skill and finesse it takes to fight that way. One other option is to change the armour. In a space setting with energy weapons, why is metal armor used? It is uncomfortable, unwieldy, and would probably do much more harm than good in an energy weapon fight.

So you could have armor made out of a lighter material that disperses of disrupts energy but can be harmed by metal. And if metal weapons are owned by very few people, largely for ceremonial purposes it makes perfect sense for armourers not to take them into account.

eskay
06-16-2016, 06:40 PM
The other issue with nanomachines or chaotic molecules or whatever, is that barring some switch to turn it on and off, lightsaber-style, you'd have real problems with accidental dismemberment and/or cutting off of fingers. Like in The Subtle Knife.

Dennis E. Taylor
06-16-2016, 07:16 PM
Larry Niven used monofilament-based cutting implements in Ringworld, so light-sabres aren't your only option. Swords with monofilament edges, or vibrating edges, or edges made of unobtanium that can be sharpened down to an atom's width.

PyriteFool
06-16-2016, 07:44 PM
Though you would have to explain how they stay in a scabbard

Kjbartolotta
06-16-2016, 07:49 PM
You don't really need unobtanium, pretty much any future polymer is gonna give you an edge that never dulls. As for cutting through metal armor, well, if the armors made out of the same stuff as the sword, then it's an irresistible force meets the immovable object type of situation.

I love swords, and think they belong in any space opera type setting. Just, y'know, know their limitations. There was a great RPG in the 90's called Fading Suns that justified swords as useful in boarding parties and raids on ships. This doesn't quite hold up to analysis, but I think it's fine even in a pretty hard SF setting to just go with it. Plus, years of life on tightly-packed habitats and colonies probably helps to encourage swords. In the setting I have, swords have gotten pretty Final Fantasy-ish, since better materials lead to more fanciful designs.

Chaos molecules though, I dunno. If I read that I'd probably get annoyed.

themindstream
06-16-2016, 08:31 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is that when it came to armor, swords were not the weapon of choice: maces were. Concentrated blunt force could shatter bone, impair the joints of plate armor to impair a knight's movement. Your futuristic armor is probably more along the lines of kevlar and carbon fiber so going for the joints may not work so well but unless you've got technology to negate the effect of impact force, a mace would still cause some very serious pain.

It would probably help if you went into a bit more detail about the armor in question though.

SillyLittleTwit
06-16-2016, 09:33 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is that when it came to armor, swords were not the weapon of choice: maces were. Concentrated blunt force could shatter bone, impair the joints of plate armor to impair a knight's movement.

Weapons of choice for the majority would be the axe (the nice thing about the axe - it's multipurpose). The scary one for your average knight would be the mace, yes, or the hammer, since your average blacksmith knows a thing or two about how armour gets made, so he knows a thing or two about wrecking it too.

Swords against plate weren't supposed to be sharp - they were wielded like baseball bats.

FantasyDark
06-16-2016, 10:00 PM
The blades could have matter dispersal fields along the edge, so that regardless what material it hits it disperses the molecules in a flash-bang instant effect. You could adjust the power scale to whatever suits your story, perhaps each solid hit would only cut 1/4 inch deep so several precise strikes might be required to open your opponents armor up.

On the armor side of things; I'm a big fan of graphene, it has unique electrical properties which might be beneficial against energy weapons.

I like the idea of the blade user being connected to the weapon via nanobots so that only they would be able to wield it. A simple blade on or blade off mental command would allow for an ordinary sheath.

themindstream
06-16-2016, 10:31 PM
Weapons of choice for the majority would be the axe (the nice thing about the axe - it's multipurpose). The scary one for your average knight would be the mace, yes, or the hammer, since your average blacksmith knows a thing or two about how armour gets made, so he knows a thing or two about wrecking it too.

Swords against plate weren't supposed to be sharp - they were wielded like baseball bats.

When I said "weapon of choice" I mean the best weapon for the job. Also, it's probably a myth that common soldiers didn't carry swords (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9SvgWJNSd8) (TLDR of the linked video: cheap, used swords were a thing, maces would have been carried by the wealthier soldiers who actually expected to be going up against foes in full plate and/or mail, generally wearing full armor themselves).

For the sake of discussion, warhammers and maces are similar enough that I'm comfortable lumping them in the same category.

I'm pretty sure "wielded like baseball bats" is flat out wrong but I'm not actually a historical martial arts expert and don't have a handy video to link to. I'm pretty sure a sword, with the weight at the hilt and balanced along the blade, would glance off plate if you hit edge-on. Best shot might be punching with the pommel end or trying to get into gaps with the point.

Edit: The Youtube suggestions reminded me that this video theorizing about high tech swords (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azq0G82lXTc) is a thing and worth a watch.

Edit 2: Actual historical martial arts demo of fighters in plate with swords. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4X1FNhYx3U) Lots of using the sword as a lever, half-swording (gripping the blade in your off-hand), pomel strikes...

R.Barrows
06-16-2016, 11:04 PM
I recall the Deathstalker series. Stupid, but fun, it involved an Empire of nobility separated into Houses. You know the deal - space opera royalty. Their battles always involved swords because their laser weaponry used capacitors that required such a long recharge time. Fire once and you had a good couple of minutes before you could fire again. Thus battles always began with people unloading their energy weapons and then drawing blades until the energy weapons recharged. Their culture had completely lost solid projectile technology and moved around it back to mele weapons. (Solid projectile weapons were later used as a plot point that allowed the rebellion to succeed).

Anyway, as others have mentioned, mono-filament and nano-thread come to mind first. Some other options could include some really crazy shit. I guess I can toss it out here. It might at least be amusing. Don't ask me about the physics, though. We're talking space-opera so unbelievum is a particle.

Virtual Mass
The weapon isn't real matter, it's 'virtual' matter. Not 'computer game' virtual, but rather more like matter that has no mass to it because it's not associated with the quantum properties that would give it mass. I suppose you could consider it dark matter held in alignment by a quantum energy pulse that runs through it. Under normal circumstances, it feels like a smooth piece of steel. But it's got three modes. In ghost mode it can move through normal matter without any effect. In standard mode it operates like a normal blade. In boost mode, it's virtual density increases to the point that it's practically two dimensional and will cut through anything without resistance.

The 2D Blade
This one is similar to the virtual mass blade except that it's always normal mass until you activate the transdimensional effect which converts it into 2D and again gives you a weapon that can cut through normal matter without resistance. I like to think of this one as a shearing weapon. It'll shear through anything. Just don't hit it on the flat in 2D mode or it will shatter the blade.

Neutronium Blade
It's made out of a depleted neutronium lattice held in place by a Proto-Theta Mega-Mesh matrix that uses anti-Higgs Bosons and dark matter Muons to eliminate the gravitational field from the matter. Otherwise it would weigh a couple million kilograms. Because it's light an easy to move around, it's effective as a weapon, but when you hit something with it, you're still hitting that thing with on object that's so dense that, well... you get the idea. Only Neutronium Armor or energy fields might stand up to it. Or the next weapon.

Spacial Distortion Blade
Think wormhole in the shape of a sword. Anything you hit with it ends up going somewhere else, usually in spaghettified chunks. It's completely black and warps light around the edges. Do NOT every parry another SDB with an SDB. Just don't. Cuts through anything but sucking anything it hits into a portable schwarzschild radius that's geometrically warped into the shape of a blade. Um... it does rely on an antimatter battery, so don't, you know, submit the hilt to anything that might crack the casing.

PeteMC
06-17-2016, 01:01 AM
Swords against plate weren't supposed to be sharp - they were wielded like baseball bats.

Mmm, not really. A longsword has a wicked sharp point, the trick is to half-sword it and ram the point between the joints in the armour at close range. You can also give someone a serious whack round the head with the pommel, but big swings aren't really the order of the day against an armoured opponent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnB2qB5va3I

Aggy B.
06-17-2016, 01:37 AM
Neal Stephenson had a character with glass blades in Snowcrash that could cut through kevlar because the glass was sharpened down to a single molecule. I imagine you could do something similar.

efreysson
06-18-2016, 05:08 PM
Even metal armour has joints that are weak points. Treat it like medieval plate armour where you mostly did not try to penetrate the plate directly but aimed for the weak points.


I like waylander's suggestion, especially given the added benefit of describing the skill and finesse it takes to fight that way. One other option is to change the armour. In a space setting with energy weapons, why is metal armor used? It is uncomfortable, unwieldy, and would probably do much more harm than good in an energy weapon fight.

So you could have armor made out of a lighter material that disperses of disrupts energy but can be harmed by metal. And if metal weapons are owned by very few people, largely for ceremonial purposes it makes perfect sense for armourers not to take them into account.


It would probably help if you went into a bit more detail about the armor in question though.

I do the "stab at joints" for thick, powered armour worn by special soldiers. Regular fighters actually wear flexible armour designed to disperse heat weapons, so it can be cut by a keen enough edge.

The reason I want superior super-duper cutting power is that... basically that, well, I want to. For impressive displays.

themindstream
06-18-2016, 07:23 PM
I do the "stab at joints" for thick, powered armour worn by special soldiers. Regular fighters actually wear flexible armour designed to disperse heat weapons, so it can be cut by a keen enough edge.

The reason I want superior super-duper cutting power is that... basically that, well, I want to. For impressive displays.

The flexible armor is probably some metal or ceramic mesh over stuff like kevlar padding then? (That's the first combo I can come up with that at least sounds like it might do what you want.)

A super-sci-fi sword could probably stab through something like that without stretching credulity too much. (There were RL blades specially designed for being able to punch through chain mail.) Slicing through would be harder without going into the more extreme stuff like vibroblades or impossibly-sharp edges.

dragonfliet
06-19-2016, 08:59 AM
Let's be honest. There is absolutely no good reason for people to fight with swords once guns were invented (especially once modern ammunition and semiautomatic and automatic weapons came around). So why would people fight with swords? Stupid reasons. Tradition, snobbery, the dabbling in ancient ways. Everytime someone tries to convince me that swords are somehow better I roll my eyes. It never is. They are a dumb throwback that you, the author, wants in because you think it would look cool. So what is the reason the people in your book would want to fight with swords? Because they, the people, think it looks cool. I was fond of the Firefly episode with a sword duel that used just that reason.

I'll make another note, though: kevlar is NOT GOOD at stopping a knife. It will stop a bullet, but not a knife. This is because they are designed for something else. A bullet is less sharp, and is stopped by the strands refusing to break from the force, a knife doesn't have the force, but is sharper, and kevlar is actually quite soft and easy to cut through (relatively). Now, this is today, and not your sci-fi future, but cops and soldiers aren't outfitted to stop knives (well, there are exceptions, for instance in the UK they are outfitted for that), because bullets are the biggest worry. Sci-fi bullets will be the biggest worry for your people too. Swords and knives are a threat, but not statistically significant. If you HAVE to work in the armor malarky, go with that idea. But really, I do ask you to treat it with some contempt, as I, the reader, will be doing so as well. I love me a good sword fight, but the convoluted backbends people go through to "explain" things are generally pretty bad.