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In this universe the average human's physical ability is the same but the extremes are greater. There is a 5 percent chance that a human is born much stronger/weaker then baseline humanity. This isn't attainable or genetic it's purely random. This doesn't exist in a spectrum.

If baseline humanity is born with "±0" bonus to their physical attributes then the 5 percent are ±10 there is no ±1-9. -10 are still "healthy" just weaker, smaller, slower, brittler, and less flexible.

An untrained +10 can match a modern professional athlete. With training a +10 could easily break a world record in their chosen sport (I.e. if trained as a long jumper they would set a world record but if they decided to also compete as a power lifter they would probably win but would have trouble setting a new world record).

The only downsides of a +10 are greater caloric needs and worse heat dissipation due to having less surface area relative to volume.

There also exist the 0.01 percent who I'll call "±20". The -20 are bed ridden for life. An untrained +20 can match a highly trained +10. +20's would be conspicuously unnatural at a distance due to their size. There are no inherent mental differences to the ±'s.

How would these abnormal people effect warfare both in and out of combat.

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  • $\begingroup$ i dont quite sure what you mean with higher delta, but reading your description, i think the weaker one wont even survive during that timeline and only left with this ubermensch due to natural selection, outside of plague and pandemic if theres any in your world. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Aug 12 '20 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ btw are you mean medieval combat as duel (a one on one thing or smaller scale fight) or warfare in general like formation or equipment? since if you mean warfare, i dont think there will be much different, outside of more of the ubermensch people will be able to pull stronger warbow. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Aug 12 '20 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun I agree that they would have a much higher fatality rate in combat. They would probably only serve in non combat roles. I should clarify that I meant warfare as a whole and not just combat. I just want to clarify that there are more then one of these people in a population of 100000 there would be 5000 +10s and 10 +20s. $\endgroup$ – Cubedspartan Aug 12 '20 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ Related worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/52026/… $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Aug 12 '20 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 The post you linked deals with explicitly magical creatures. I'm trying to get a handle on some relatively mundane superhuman. $\endgroup$ – Cubedspartan Aug 12 '20 at 9:30
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No significant change

Most situations in medieval warfare were resolved by sieges. Special individuals have no real effect in this sort of situation - on the offensive side they are not powerful enough to smash down walls, while on the defensive side they are not powerful enough to sally forth and break through a besieging army. Supply issues are critical for both besiegers and besieged, so individuals requiring more food are actually a disadvantage.

In the relatively uncommon battles, there is no real opportunity for an unusually gifted individual to shine. They can draw a slightly more powerful bow, but the heaviest warbows in use were actually around the limit of efficiency - more powerful bows will launch an arrow slightly faster, but it needs to be a heavier arrow in order to survive the launch forces and the v squared term when calculating air resistance just means it will slow down faster. In a modern army a highly dexterity sniper who can consistently make headshots at 600 metres is valuable, but neither bows nor crossbows are/were accurate enough to allow an individual to reach that level of accuracy regardless of how good they were. Melee does not benefit that much either - successful fighting in a battle line relies on teamwork and maintaining a shield wall, not massive strength or skill. A strong, dextrous individual will do better than a weaker, clumsier opponent of equal skill, but not enough to unbalance the battlefield. Unlike the movies, battles do not consist of individuals on each side squaring off with each other and dueling.

An individual with superior abilities has the potential to be a superior scout or messenger, especially if visual acuity is included in their abilities. They would also be valuable as hunters supplying an army, with a higher chance of being successful in a hunt than a physically inferior person with the same skill level. It's a good thing they can bring more food in, because they are eating more than other soldiers.

Ironically, a person with superior physical abilities is relatively wasted in this setting. Humanity has gone past the "run game down and hit it with a club" stage where physical prowess is king, but has not reached the level of precision manufacturing that will allow a talented sniper to have a decisive influence on the outcome of a battle. They also are not even up to the stage where plate armour allows a strong individual with a polearm or zweihander to break through the battle lines.

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I agree with most of what KerrAvron2055 said, especially with the "shield wall" vs. "scattered film-duels". Side note: if you moved way further back in history (early bronze age), before tight shield-wall formations became a thing, it might be quite interestingly different though! I'm going to go with the percentages you gave for the general population (1 in 20 and 1 in 10,000, resp.), but I imagine that these people would be more likely to end up in the army, so these percentages could go up quite significantly. I imagine that 1 in 5 and 1 in 1000 is not a very unrealistic guess!

These "superhumans" would certainly change the tactics used. Several options arise in my head. Thinking this way: the major jobs of a spearman in a battle would be to harass the enemy directly opposite, defend themselves and their comrades immediately left and right, and to look for openings in enemy formations diagonally. If your army has 5% +10s, you could put, say, 4 rows of infantry, where every 5th in the front row is a superhuman - he can easily defend himself and 2 people on each side, while dealing some good strikes into the opposing line. If your enemy doesn't have any +10s in their formation, they can have 20 rows and will still lose.

Or some other general can have a completely different idea - why not combine the 5% of your +10s into an elite unit (possibly with the +20s on corners or the spearhead), which would have no trouble outflanking the enemy formation and smashing their flanks, very likely causing the army to rout!

OK, you might say, but large-scale battles were rather rare. Most fighting was done in sieges and small-ish skirmishes (KerrAvron2055 mentions this in his answer). Well, one of the major uses of heavy cavalry, such as medieval knights, is exactly that - skirmishes! They would keep bothering, annoying and weakening the enemy force as it marches, tries to get some food or firewood, very much a wolf-pack hit-and-run tactics. So why don't make your 5% +10s an elite cavalry unit with the best horses you can get your hands on, to just never give your enemy a moment of peace, kill their lumber parties, attack their supply wagons, crush any smaller detachments, and just disappear in a cloud of dust when being overpowered?

Similarly with sieges. I agree that "Special individuals... are not powerful enough to sally forth and break through a besieging army." But when you have a besieged city with, say, 1000 defenders, then you can make a sortie with a unit of 50 elite heavy cavalry, and even though they likely won't make a dramatic breakthrough, they might be able to inflict some solid damage to the enemy army - which is often not in a great shape to start with! On the besieging side, you probably wouldn't see a +10 unit charging with ladders only to be shot down, but they could still either 1) spearhead any attack after ramming the gate / putting up towers / breaching the walls or 2) exploit any stratagem of war such as infiltrating the castle/city as civilians or sneak in via a path open by a spy on the inside.

Anyway, my point was that beyond this simple "mix or split" decision there are an infinite number of alternatives, and a good tactician might use one or another based on the circumstances - it would definitely change the scene noticeably.


NOTE: This was all assuming that both parties would have a similar proportion of these superhumans. In case one side did have them (5% +10s and a handful of +20s in a large-ish army) and the other side didn't, there might not even be all that many fights happening! Are you going to go in a war with a power whose front line you can't break through in a battle and where you can expect at any time having one of both of your flanks smashed with ease? If you are - your soldiers won't be very happy to fight for you. Think of a "weapon push" (can't find a good link, can only recommend Murray's War Games - when your opponent has superior equipment, your troops are less likely to fight and more likely to run or surrender), but with "weaponised" superhumans. Reputation can do A LOT - think Swiss pikemen, which could march at you in a way to make soldiers run even before any physical contact happened, or Hussite rebels with their enemies taking flight upon just hearing their battle hymn.

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War of skirmishes would be different. Huge battles would stay the same.

Some war are fought through sieges and great battlefields, and those wouldn't change much as one exceptional individual wouldn't make much of a difference in the end, except maybe on some key points of a fight like a wall breach which needs to be contained in a pinch.

On the other hand, some war are best described as "a lot of skirmishes". In a huge war, skirmishes kinda blends in a long stream of small battles, but in a war of skirmishes, losing one skirmish is a bigger deal, because it's a symptom that your troops are at disadvantage in all their skirmishes. Then, war becomes less logistics and more small-scale strategy and feats of small fighting units.

I don't have a specific medieval example in head right now, but the Vietnam war was reputed as bieng a war of skirmishes. While ~40% of the battles were big battles fought over specific territory, another 40% of the battles were basically ambushes initiated by the north Vietnamese soldiers. All in all, ~80% of the fights were fought at distances of less than 100 meters (~300 feet if you prefer), which made them more akin to a lot of skirmishes than a big, overall strategic fight. The US government studied this in details as some weapons are more effective than others in skirmishes, and this is one of the reasons that they upgraded to full auto rifles for every soldier and not a bunch of rifles with a couple guys with automatic weapons.

Good non-specific examples of skirmishes includes urban warfare, jungle/forest warfare, ambushes and special forces operations. If you want your supersoldiers to make a difference, look that way.

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