The atmosphere in the Judging Hall was stretched so thin that it seemed like it would snap at the slightest blink of an eye. On one side of the hall sat the Master Judge and his guards, his hand gripping a metal gavel that could either cause the greatest of pleasures or the most torturous of pains. On the other side of the hall sat the Defendant. Between them could be felt a great animosity, so powerful as to push the spectators against the walls; being pushed away from the emanation of hostility that - if one approached it - would force them to fall and curl up on the floor, to give up, to simply wait for it to stop.
The Master Judge's gavel came down as if in slow motion, and crashed against the stone table with a force that would have cracked a femur in half.
The eye had been blinked. The air was emptied by the reverberations emitting from the tremendous crash of the gavel. The great hostility disappeared, replaced by something even worse: the feeling that one's role had changed from predator to prey.
The Defendant's face contorted. "I predicted this."
He stood up.
"I would expect nothing more from a man in the pockets of the Enemy."
A gasp could be heard, and the guards were now on edge, with their guns at the ready. This was a very serious accusation. Almost all men who were found to be guilty in the Judging Hall would be at this point trying to be as sympathetic as possible to lower the severity of their punishment. Yet this Defendant was not doing that. He was almost guaranteed death.
The Defendant's plans, however, did not involve death.
From seemingly nowhere he pulled out a sword, and before the guards could react, he -

...did what?

What science-based superpower, in an otherwise superpower-free world, could someone have to make the sword a viable weapon in modern times?

When I say modern world, it is likely the enemy will have common modern defense or attack equipment. Expect guns, bulletproof vests, tasers, and the like. (The character doesn't have to beat a tank, but the more overpowered you make the character while still keeping it plausible, the more bonus points you get!)

The superpower itself must be science-based. It can be caused by natural or artificial causes, but please make sure it is feasible, not just possible! For example, a person who gets super lucky and whenever he uses a sword quantum tunneling makes it immediately go through the nearest person's chest is completely infeasible, because the probabilities are just way too low.

Note that the character is not stupid. In fact, in order to develop the science-based superpower, it is likely he must have made some great advances in scientific fields, and therefore is most likely extremely intelligent. Before going into any situation, he would weigh up the pros and cons of other weapons - such as traditional guns, lasers, railguns, darts, bombs, or the like - and would somehow choose the sword. Why would someone do that? What superpower could they have, that would somehow make the sword a better choice than a laser or simply a gun?

The materials of the sword aren't determined ahead of time. Pick whatever you like! However, it has to at least follow the spirit of a sword, even if it does emanate an aura of RGB and look pretty cool.

Note that what makes the sword a better choice has to be applicable in the majority of situations. For example, when fighting in a fragile spacecraft a sword + inhuman reaction times might be a better choice than a gun to avoid puncturing the hull, but a sword must be a better choice not just in (rare) space-based combat but also in (common) ground combat.

  • $\begingroup$ This question MAY be a duplicate (worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/160102/…) and (worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/87547/…) but the source question that it duplicates was closed, so I don't think there was an actual answer kept OPEN that it duplicates. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Upvotes for virchau12 my builders! If it is good enough to answer it is good enough to upvote. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ Define "science-based superpowers". The utility of a sword versus a gun will depend on exactly how "superpowerful" you can be. For example Captain America is better off using a gun than a sword, even if he is "peak human". By contrast Superman could make a sword into a viable weapon against guns, but he is so OP he could get the same job done with his bare hands. Does science-based mean "what we can accomplish with gene editing" or "complete technobabble like lightning being struck by heavy water" $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 20:40

9 Answers 9


The Defendant's plans, however, did not involve death. From seemingly nowhere he pulled out a sword, and before the guards could react, he

...raised it high. It was an absurd scene - not only was the very idea of a sword as a weapon completely insensate: the blade was actually a luminous plastic cylinder, and almost everybody present immediately recognized it as not a real weapon at all, but rather a sword-analogue from a very popular SciFi production of the recent past.

"What is the meaning of this charade-" began the outraged Master Judge, turning a dangerous shade of red and raising his gavel.

As if in answer, the blade began flashing irregularly. Everybody stared in wonder. What was happening?

"The Defendant-" roared the Master Judge, and blinked. What-? He blinked again. He found it difficult concentrating. Something was happening, but - what? Who... and - Now... that is curious thought the Master Judge, suddenly puzzled. He looked again at his desk. It shouldn't do this! It shouldn't be moving towards my fa-

The sword turned off in a suddenly silent room. Everyone present had collapsed where they stood. The Defendant opened the eyes he'd scrunched closed, looking around.

"One hundred percent efficacy" he muttered, satisfied. The "blade" telescoped back again and he pocketed it. "Score one for the new discipline of photoneurology."

The science (and the science fiction)

It is well known that a strobing light at the appropriate frequency can trigger a seizure in some forms of epyleptic syndrome. Lesser effects can also be achieved with both short-term and long-term exposures to specific wavelengths, for example yellow and white light has been investigated for depression and seasonal affective disorder.

The possibility of inducing a specific neuronal firing pattern exists, even if the chances of this pattern having universal results in humans (i.e. everyone is affected in exactly the same way) are slight. In SF literature the effect has been leveraged more than once - for example in Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, and then of course there is Men in Black's neuralyzer.

The one played by the Defendant is mostly the same trick - attract the attention with some flashy (pun intended) bauble so that the victims all look in the right direction and get the full effect, then induce a seizure. The effects we could get away with are: erasure of short term memory (last five-ten minutes; subjects don't remember much except there was a sword...); short-term forced compliancy to suggestions and orders - for example the Master Judge disclosing some access codes; tonic-clonic seizures. Less likely but not unconceivable, induced personality changes and affective disorders.


I've posted a few similar questions about trying to make alternatives to guns work myself, but the truth is that it is extremely hard to make this work, and you probably can't do so practically.

Guns didn't replace swords(1) because they are more lethal, swords are plenty lethal, guns replaced swords becuase they affect a vastly larger area(a 1-2 meter radius vs a 30+ meter radius). No justification or superpower can change this fundamental problem, and you'll never have a justification good enough to convince someone with sufficient knowledge about this issue. Like with the other similar idea of mecha working better than tanks or aircraft, stories that feature swords like this work better when they don't try too hard to justify it as actually realistic.

The only example I can think off that I would say pulled this off is the Infomocracy series by Malka Older. In her story, there is a technology known as the Lumper that uses a tightly controlled magnetic field as an off button for guns. A similar idea could work here, in that your sword wielding defendant could have developed a similar toy and unleashed it in the courtroom at the same time he dramatically unfurled his sword. But here's the problem, even in Infomocracy, swords didn't replace guns. Flamethrowers and lower velocity plastic guns largely did. Even with bladed weapons, most character rely on more easily concealed and smaller weapons than a full sized sword.

What also helped Infomocracy is that this element was not at all the focus, as the real story was about the concept of microdemocracy in which "nations" are merely 100,000 people centenials, forming coalition governments attached by ideology rather than geography. It is also about the group Information who run said system, as a hybrid of the United Nations and Google, with all of the unfortunate implications that combination gives.

(1) More accurately guns mostly replaced spears and other longarms, as swords were the equivalent of modern handguns as the classical sidearm. This is why swords could still be found up until the first world war.


Defining Plausible:

I'm thinking this is likely a frame-shift. There are several reasons where this could apply, but you might not agree with them. I'll lay them out. Only the first is really plausible.

  • Legal: Guns are banned. Although a sword is potentially lethal, it's nowhere near as bad as an assault rifle spewing bullets into a crowd. A massacre now requires dozens of armed men, not a random crazy. Maybe it's a reaction to horrible events, or religious, or imposed by aliens. That is up to you. Computer systems (if they are universal) have been engineered into all police bots and systems so that no one can carry a gun. They will be automatically be arrested. Folks can perhaps carry other projectile weapons, but if they get too fast/gun-like, you trigger the universal response. The response could be hard-wired into all computer/social systems SO deep the authorities can't/won't be able to adjust it. So Beat cops are carrying clubs and rapiers, pepper spray but not tasers (too gun-like). You might get away with a compound bow, but a crossbow triggers flags.

My vision on this is that an AI is built to enforce laws and judgements independent of human influences. The AI becomes fully aware and takes over the entire global internet. Rather than ruling the world, it ruthlessly enforces a series of laws that matches ITS idea of human interactions. Surprisingly, the system works extremely well and everyone universally agrees the AI is dong an amazing job. Lethal violence drops, and wars become VERY different affairs. But the AI doesn't allow guns. ANY guns. Every person who uses one has their money and lands seized, drones attack them on site, even doors won't open for them and they become pariahs, escorted to prisons to serve time for their crimes.

  • Audacity: Does anyone think Batman couldn't stop more criminals if he was a sniper, swinging from rooftop to rooftop shooting people? Does anyone want to read that story (okay, that's more the Punisher)? If you have ANY superpower allowing you to get close to your enemies, the sword is a classic tool, terrifying in its simplicity, intimate in its violence. Sure, you can spray bullets and plant bombs. That makes you a thug, or worse, a terrorist. The CHOICE of a sword is a deep statement of contempt for your foes. EVERYONE knows you can do worse, and don't even bother. Like Batman, it's a mind game. To put it differently, imagine a scenario where you have to go through one of two buildings to escape from somewhere. In one, there's a gunman. In the other, Hannibal Lecter. Which building are you going to escape through?
  • Handwavium tech: Force fields don't have a great real-world place today, but who knows what science will bring? They're so universally accepted as a fixture in stories that everyone suspends disbelief. Similarly, being able to shift an object through space means either that a blade could remotely strike an enemy OR a person could teleport to their opponents and engage at point-blank, overcoming the advantage of ranged weapons. Similarly, a teleporting device is too small to fit in a bullet, but a sword will do whatever you want (and then teleport back to you on command). Ironman-type super-armor might make bullets ineffective and allow closing.
  • Handwavium materials/properties: There were nanoswords in Deus Ex that were super-sharp, able to cut through almost anything. I've seen sonic hand weapons that can cut through structural materials in various books and games. Adamantium is over-done, but includes that combo of "invulnerable to anything but adamantium and able to cut everything else, but too expensive to use for bullets" that appeals to a hand weapon (maybe more of a light sword, but still). If there is a material that is conductive to a new type of energy, even a thin filament of it could give a sword amazing properties (leading to my next answer)
  • Psychic-like (extradimensional) abilities: The mind and perception become increasingly important to manipulating the deeper levels of theoretical physics. This is getting increasingly far from your suggestions, but if there are extradimensional components to advancing technology (like the intervention of beings who's interaction with our world differs radically from ours, or people able to shift into different kinds of reality) then the world is wide-open. Manipulate probability, and every bullet misses. But a human stabilizes reality around them, so attacks you continue to control get through, and interacting fields disrupt such that a sword can penetrate (although a bullet might still work point-blank). You can't change what is easily perceived, and so bullets must be seen to stabilize. Draw extradimensional energy psychically, and you can channel it through something you touch, but not through a projectile (so that giant sword can cut through a tank, but an RGP is stopped by advanced armor). Obviously this can apply to the teleporting/forcefield handwavium as well.
  • $\begingroup$ The force-field shields in Dune would stop projectile weaponry, and they reacted badly with energy weapons, creating explosions. However, swords and knives were still viable against them, because the shield would only block matter traveling above a set speed. $\endgroup$
    – Karst
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 20:23

Lets start with what we know. This sword came from nowhere.

/From seemingly nowhere he pulled out a sword/

Defendant is a dangerous dude. They would have checked him for weapons, and I mean checked him. He would be wearing prison clothes. There is nowhere to hide anything much less a sword.

Yet he produces a sword. Either the sword sprung out of nothing and he created it. Or the sword was nowhere, and has come to here at his request.

The sword is a gate.

The sword is an access to another place. Maybe a certain place, or an uncertain place. It might be part of that place. Maybe a place that connects to many places. The sword may be the 3dimensional extension of a multidimensional object which can be used to traverse these dimensions.

Why a sword? The persons who originally devised this item intended it to be used as a weapon against entities that were very difficult to hurt, much less kill. But they could be moved, and being struck by this sword can move the thing struck to nowhere.

He could use the sword to fight. But the Defendant does not intend to fight. He intends to escape.

From seemingly nowhere he pulled out a sword. As his guards reached for their own weapons, the Defendant spun the sword, grasped the hilt with both hands, and thrust the point against his midsection. It burst bloodlessly through the back of his prison shirt as he groaned and folded over the blade. And folded. And folded, somehow becoming smaller and smaller until he was gone.

The Defendant brings himself nowhere. It is a neat trick. However, a problem with nowhere is that it is not empty. Other things too durable to kill have been sent there by the sword over the years. Some of these things are also too durable to die, and they remain, and they remember.


Starting with the fact that your character seemingly pulled a sword out of nowhere, the fact he's in a courtroom and was just called 'guilty' by a judge, and the mention of an "Enemy" I have to say this is perfectly feasible, as long as you've set it up correctly.

I created a blade-wielding character named Cobalt that can take on (and take out) gunmen, so perhaps I can give you some needed inspiration.

  1. Taking a Weapon Past The Guards-This is a big deal; how would someone get a sword past the guards who would have searched him before he entered the courtroom? In Cobalt's case, his swords are an extension of him, formed of his essence, so he can absorb them into himself when he doesn't need them then reform them in his hands when he does need them.

  2. As for "before the guards could react, he...."-Cobalt's blades are bulletproof, and with his razor-sharp reflexes, he can block, deflect, or slice incoming bullets. This combined with his supernatural speed and strength allows him to take on gun-wielding opponents despite the innate weaknesses of swords against firearms.

  3. Plausibility-Ever heard of quantum foam? If that's possible, why not crystals made of entropy (disorder)? This is basically what Desonia is, and Desonia is what gives Cobalt his supernatural powers; it links body and mind and manifests both in supernatural ways. For Cobalt, this means his swordsmanship becomes the Implausible Fencing Powers trope. You could do something similar for your character; something in his system warps reality in such a way that he can use a sword despite its inherent uselessness against firearms.


Simple: Give the sword some sort of ranged-weapon capacities (maybe it splits in two to reveal a gun), and enough cutting power to cut through materials used for modern body armor and tanks.


Why use the sword. Reasons

  1. Confusion: This days no one would expect you to jump on them with a sword and it breaks the modern way of fighting of fronts.
  2. Friendly fire: You could trigger your enemies to fire among themselves in the confusion and use them as human shields.
  3. Demoralization: First you see a dude killing you heavily armed pals with a sword then you even kill your own partners(that are being used as human shields) it would scare any one to dead.
  4. Preferences: Your protagonist simply doesn't like fire weapons.
  5. Is personal: No logic here he just wants to kill up close and personal.

Why use the sword. Making it viable (Science)

I believe that with tech this is easier to explain that the reasons. You could come up with mostly whatever you feel like, this are some ideas:

  1. Kinetic shield: It doesn't needs to stop bullets just deflect them.
  2. A more advanced armor than normal: Have you heard about graphene, it's a new organization of carbon, is extremely durable, light, hard and flexible is being called the future material, better yet it exists look into it. In the future it may be used to produce just about anything including body armor and mono-atomic sharp blades, it's so cool that it sounds like science fiction but it isn't.
  3. Time acceleration: It's theorized that time has particles. If you could excite this particles you could move seemingly at supreme high speeds while for you it would look like everyone else is moving slowly.

** Invisibility **

While not possible with current technology, we can imagine what would be required to give at least near-invisibility to an object. That is, receive and identify exactly what light is coming in at what angle somewhere on the object's surface, absorb that light, and emit the same light "on the other side".

The computing problem to analyze everything coming in at every point on an irregular surface would be significant, and the materials problem for absorbing and emitting light on command might be even harder, but if you put it in these terms, you're at least science-based.

The advantages of invisibility as a super power are pretty clear; you can avoid being targeted (other than by someone randomly spraying bullets), and you can get close enough to a target to wield a melee weapon without being percieved (visually), or defended against.

Why aren't you turning invisible and shooting? Well, you have to make an excuse or two here, but there are some.e plausible ones. Maybe loud noises disrupt the advanced materials of your suit. Maybe extending the cloaking effect to "a gun" is difficult, but some custom-made melee weapon is easier.

Would a sword specifically be better than a club? If spatters from blood stand out against your invisibility, a sword has a distinct drawback in that you're more likely to be spreading blood around. On the other hand, if the invisible material is sensitive to harsh vibrations (like the noise of a nearby gunshot), beating people will definitely disrupt the cloaking effect. Also, you're much more likely to be lethal in a single blow with a blade. Thinking in the other direction, swords have more reach and can be more lethal than a knife - but maybe extending the invisibility to a polearm is difficult or impossible. Plus, you can't see your own weapon (it's invisible), so you don't want to be carrying something that might catch, because you don't see the end of it. A sword is a good compromise in weapon size.

As usual, we'll ignore the fact that invisible things are (probably) blind.


The culture


This man thought you couldn't live without it. It is a symbol and can inspire a great deal of emotions in the people seeing it. A gun is scary, a man advancing with a huge sharp piece of steel is quite another.

The science

This man doesn't want to die and is intelligent. The sword can be made from different materials, like a graphene or crystallised or possibly a composite of materials that make it possibly better than a normal sword. In addition, it's not detectable by metal scanners.

This still doesn't make it effective against cool headed people with guns. The sword has a scientific form of bio luminous layer on top that can flash incredibly bright to blind or confuse attackers. Together with a lightning fast version of the glasses that turn into sunglasses depending on the amount of sunlight, possibly in lens form, the sword wielder has a much more easy free movement across rooms. Due to the size and composition of the sword it can last a long time.

Problems with a sword

A sword can't really be better than a gun. If you have lightning fast reflexes to use a sword, using a gun tailored to the situation can be better. In space it isn't difficult to make guns that are dangerous but don't damage the hull (significantly). You can grab tasers as well!

With guns don't need to cross distances and they require low skill for operation. That is what most military is doing. Making weapons that can be as effective as possible with as little training as possible. Sure there are exceptions, but even with high skill stuff like planes you see we're replacing them with drones. No more hours upon hours in simulations and training. Just courses on commands to the UAV and validating targets.

So a sword is in the modern day not really valid. It could be valid uf other options lose effectiveness, like with special shields. Still, the sword can be good for your character, even if it isn't the best choice available.


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