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In my story, there is a special kind of humans, let's call them s-man. They look like humans, but they have some advantage.

Around 1200, the s-man were feared as warriors in the Holy Roman Empire. Nowadays, there are some s-man which received military training, but there is no or only a small advantage in comparison to a human. This may be something like extraordinary strength, stamina, super-sturdy bones, ...

Which difference to humans gave them an advantage in medieval times, but does not nowadays?

  • A small advantage is okay, but a fight s-man special ops vs. human special ops should be more or less balanced.
  • No one knows about the existance of the s-man, so you can not balance the fight by special equipment or training for the humans.

PS: To aid my own research, it might also be interesting to know what the main mode of combat was around 1200. Answers to How does a medieval european (1200, let's say) army operate? indicate, that in fact wars were mostly won by outmaneuvered the others in order to cut off supply lines, rather than actual fighting (but the answer talks about the 1400s). https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/35769/why-did-only-the-english-adopt-evolve-and-use-the-longbow-en-masse-in-war/36121#36121 says, siege warfare was most common.

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    $\begingroup$ Something that modern equipment can do. Infrared vision is very useful for sneak attacks. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jul 1 '18 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, user52679! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – FoxElemental Jul 1 '18 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ Immunity to the Plague? $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jul 2 '18 at 8:16
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Now we have guns. With a gun I can kill a man who could whup my ass with both hands behind his back, blindfolded. Guns are the great equalizer.

Your s-man could be very large and strong and formidable in hand to hand combat or with human powered weapons. He might be very durable, able to withstand the sort of damage that swords and arrows deal out. Guns are a whole different order of magnitude of damage, and were a game changer even in medieval days.

With modern weapons, combatants often do not even lay eyes on one another. It does not really matter how strong or durable your opponent is if you can put a bullet from a machine gun into him.

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Today's armed conflict has three big fields of advantage over olden days warfare: Transportation, information, weapon-velocity. Velocity of weapons was covered in another answer, as was the night vision aspect of information.

Transportation was revolutionized with the advent mechanized transport. To be able to move troops at superhuman speeds is valuable, and provided by todays APCs, but super-human-speed troops would still be at an advantage over normal speed troops. But how about averaged speed on a timescale of weeks? Trains offer the possibility of moving exhausted troops a great distance where they arrived less exhausted. So maybe the s-men can do a sort of group-sleepwalk, where just one of the group is actually awake and leading the way, while the others follow, sleeping? This would have been a great advantage once, where marches were the main mode of transportation, but would not fare well against today's weapons, so would be mostly neutralized in a modern setting.

Or, if you are feeling like your story could use some levity, use something a little more ironic, like modern hygiene neutralizing their advantage: In the olden days, the compound in their sweat fermented over weeks to a potent hallucinogenic airborne neurotoxin with adrenaline as a cofactor, inducing feelings of dread and despair in people already awash with adrenaline (as one would be in battle - s-men would be immune because they have antibodies to the toxin) - if kept apart from the main host, and used in direction of the wind they went through the flanks of the enemy like a hot knife through butter. Today: deodorant... --------------- Or some s-men specific symbiotic bacterium that only thrives in cavities and releases what amounts to performance enhancing substances, creating s-men that are stronger, wilder, more acute, and fueled by constant tooth-ache... . Today: dentist...

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  • $\begingroup$ I can’t help but feel that the scientific process would lead to some modern day soldiers with awful teeth in your last scenario. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 2 '18 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ That would redefine 'smell of death' $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jul 2 '18 at 8:23
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More effective metabolism and better immune system

These people can metabolise a lot of things that normal humans cannot, like cellulose, so food shortages don't affect them. They can just eat grass or tree leaves and get energy from that. Their bodies still make their own Vitamin C, and they have a perfect immune system so they never get food poisoning if they eat meat that's gone off or drink water from a river where the army camps and latrines dug into the earth leak their contents into it.

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    $\begingroup$ The cow/pig-metabolism is a very nice thought - it would have been a great boon in medieval warfare (your bagagge train would be much lighter and more defendable, and you'd be able to campaign into and through countryside that offered few to no agriculture without much preparation), but is absolutely neutralized by modern rations. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jul 2 '18 at 9:31
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Let's give the s-men a genuine super-power super-power. Greater strength and sturdier bones don't really cut it. Medieval warfare depended on weapons like swords, knives, arrows and spears. Large-scale projectiles like those throw from ballistas and catapults existed but an s-man might be less inconvenienced by them.

Assume the s-men generate force-fields capable of either deflecting or stopping low-velocity kinetic weapons (this includes swords, knives, arrows and spears) in motion. By low-velocity, this means low-velocity compared to bullets and artillery shells (obviously also rocket-propelled grenades and ICBMs).

In medieval combat a typical s-man will be protected by their force-field from being attacked with typical medieval weapons. However, in modern times bullets, artillery shells and rocket-propelled grenades will be moving too fast for their force-fields to either deflect or stop.

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    $\begingroup$ The forcefield doesn’t even have to be keyed for a specific velocity: no human brain can track the movement of a bullet, so if the forcefield has to be deployed to deflect a specific threat and only lasts a very short time then s-men would be able to block (relatively) slow moving swords/warhammers, but wouldnt be able to even see the bullet to block it. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 2 '18 at 6:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs An interesting variant on the force-field idea. If the s-men can turn the force-fields when they know they are under attack, they might be able to deflect bullets. making force-fields velocity dependent removes that possibility. Your idea works well if the way the force-field is deployed puts it in the path of a weapon, Then no way could they stop bullets. I really like your idea as another way of achieving a similar effect. Really grateful for your contribution. I flagged your comment as good & useful. Ta! $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 2 '18 at 12:20
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Lightning reflexes.

In medieval times, before the invention of the gun, it was all about inflicting damage without receiving as less as possible. So these S-Men could have the advantage of hitting, parring, dodging, etc, at a superior speed. In the age of bullets and modern warfare, such a hand-to-hand ability would be still useful but less determining in a conflict

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High Endurance & Strength Increase

Back in medieval times, wearing armour for any length of time was very tiring, and swinging a sword was also very tiring, being a Knight was exhaustive. regular foot soldiers would tire quickly but a Knight in Armour was very very tiring, often when you find accounts of knights they frequently appear as riders. heavily armoured foot soldiers seemed to have been rare (at least rarer than mounted knights), they wanted the horse to do the lifting.

An S-Man with very high endurance and increased strength could carry the armour and walk around a much much longer amount of time, therefore they would be thought of as super human. able to carry that weight and swing the largest of weapons.

fast forward to modern times, guns, missiles, planes, helicopters and trucks take most of these advantages away. they would still be advantages in Military Forces, but not in the same way that they were. bizarrely its actually your example of Special Forces where they would still shine.

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Caustic spray

The s-man sports a pair of glands on each of his wrists, each gland capable of producing a high-pressure stream of one chemical. Each chemical alone is mostly harmless, but when together, they instantly combine into a single highly caustic liquid, capable of destroying any organic material within seconds. It also clings to whichever surface it contacts. S-men can control the intensity and spray cone width for each wrist separately. Maximum range about five meters. Minimum range depends on just how ... brave ... the s-man is.

It's great against infantry. Causes immense pain to any exposed body parts of your enemy, putting them out of combat instantly. If they wore leather armor - now they don't. If they wear chain mail, you can still shoot through it, though you do need to dissolve some more layers of armor before you begin damaging the opponent's body. And even if they wore plate armor (rare), there are still exposed parts you can target - and any damage to the eyes inflicts a -100% modifier to accuracy. Recommended accessory: A shield or buckler, possibly of metal; a pair of modified gauntlets, with wrist-slits for the caustic spray.

One s-man vs. one horse rider - A horse is a formidable beast, if only for just a while. Caustic spray can make even the best trained warhorse writhe in pain and unable to walk, but they still need to withstand the first charge. A shield should be of great assistance to that end, preferably combined with clever use of the environment. With a little time to prepare it's also possible to just spray a thick mist of the substance to reduce visibility as well as serve as a psychological deterrent. One downside is that it presents an impassable terrain for the s-men as well.

Archers are still as much of an issue as they are for humans. A large shield is recommended. Enough caustic mist might turn arrows into tumbling arrow tips, but then again it might not act fast enough to do that in time.

In modern times - You might be able to kill a law enforcement officer unprepared to deal with you. Moments later, you'll be lying on the ground with a crippling gunshot wound and slowly bleeding out. Or, you might get lucky - the gunshot went into your wrists (or they decided to spare you of gunshots altogether), and now an officer is escorting you to a prison equipped to deal with s-men. His uniform sports a glass fiber mesh to deal with the caustic spray. He uses laminated glass for the helmet. You are forced to wear mittens resistant to your caustic ooze. They are woven in a way such that they can be firmly locked in place by police handcuffs...

And yes, you are being detained.

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