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It is not uncommon for some fantasy and RPG's with a modern setting to boost their melee weapons with electricity. However some people think that such modifications won't really improve the killing potential of the melee weapon.

My question: how would you design an electric melee weapon designed to enhance its killing power?

Some considerations:

  • cattle prods are designed to hurt but not permanently harm the target in an attempt to make it move to the desired direction. They are no good example of what electrified weapons designed to kill can do.
  • a taser is designed as a less-than-lethal weapon meant to incapacitate the target. It is not a good example of what an electric enhancement designed to kill can do.
  • just like a sword will rarely kill on the first blow, the purpose of the electric modification is to significantly increase the chances of a kill, not to kill with every single hit (but if that is possible, go for it).
  • the weapon can at maximum gain 10% extra weight from the modification.
  • for ease of answering, I'm assuming a spear, a mace and a 70cm long sword of your choosing as modified weapons.
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    $\begingroup$ poking holes into people is a lot easier when you immobilized them first. it also reduces the risk of them poking holes in you. So, a taser is a very helpful weapon, provided it's not your only weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Feb 2 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki a taser is not a melee weapon though. Its short ranged, but not melee. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 2 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ True. But a cattle prod is, and might serve the same process. And you can attach the business end of a taser to the business end of your melee weapon, sacrificing range for maneuverability and re-useability $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Feb 2 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki I had hoped that the way I describe the cattleprod and taser as weapons that do not fuflill my requirements would mean people would NOT use them in their answers. Because again: they do not fulfill the requirements as specific less-than-lethal designs. I'm not asking to incapacitate or inconvenience the target to make killing them easier, I'm looking for a way that it helps kill the target directly. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 2 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ To clarify, zapping someone with electricity so hard it'll stop the heart isn't what you're looking for, but the ability to actually wound the target additionally to the normal strike? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Feb 2 at 14:19

7 Answers 7

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a taser is designed as a less-than-lethal weapon meant to incapacitate the target. It is not a good example of what an electric enhancement designed to kill can do.

Tasers are less-than-lethal, but because they have been designed so as not to use frequencies and waveforms that are demonstrably dangerous. It is entirely possible to make a taser-like device that is explicitly intended to eg. cause a heart attack.

The actual problem there is that it doesn't work instantly... you'd need to form a circuit with the victim, and then run a current through it for some period of time (at least a couple of seconds) so as to induce fibrillation. You could use a melee weapon to connect the probes to a target, but really you'd be better off using a ranged weapon.

What you need is something that works over very short timescales. Instead of using clever waveforms to stop the victim's muscles working properly, just use brute force... a short but very high power pulse that's intended to vaporise a small portion of the target. It doesn't operate continuously, but has some kind of ultracapacitor that is discharged on contact and charges continuously when not shorted.

The basic shape would probably be something like a mace or plain baton. The business end would be a pair of electrodes, spaced far enough apart that they don't arc when energised. You might have several pairs allowing for strikes with the side as well as the tip of the device, for example. The electrodes would probably be notched and carefully fed from a spool, so that if you accidentally welded the end of your shockrod to something (like a bit of armor, or another weapon) you can break it away without damaging or losing it.

On contact with something, there will be a bang and a flash. It might burn a hole in skin or clothing.

Back in the early noughties there was a US military project called the pulsed energy projectile (which wasn't a projectile):

laser pulse which ablates the target's surface and creates a small amount of exploding plasma. This produces a pressure wave that stuns the target and electromagnetic radiation that affects nerve cells causing a painful sensation. The technology can be used as a lethal weapon.

Now, that plasma doesn't have to be generated by a laser... the electrical discharge from the shockrod will work, too. This means that even if the impact doesn't contact flesh, the electrical fields around the small plasma fireball can still cause pain and muscle spasm... potentially even causing heart disruption. Thick insulating or conductive armor isn't necessarily going to save you here, as you can still be beaten down whilst wearing it. If the weapon was more like a mace with a knurled or spiked and weighted head there's scope for beating through softer armor and crushing some kinds of harder armor. Tough trauma plates would probably keep the wearer protected from impacts, but they can't be all enclosing and probably can't protect against the debilitating electric fields.

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    $\begingroup$ So essentially a type of arc-welding device mounted on top of the weapon? Could it be used on bladed weapons inside the body? Perhaps with an insulating layer inbetween? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 2 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan I'm not entirely certain about how well it could work on bladed weapons (probably quite effectively) but I am reasonably sure that armoring against blades with modern materials is pretty effective. If someone is soft enough to stab there's plenty of ways to despatch them with simpler technology like a powerhead or equivalent fed from bottled gas, etc. $\endgroup$ Feb 2 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Starfish Prime Perhaps advancements in armour have reintroduced medical dagger combat back or something similar. Being able to guarantee a kill from one thrust through the armour plates could be desired. Though at that point you have to wonder how bad the fight has gotten to the point where shooting or bonking each is not an option. $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Feb 3 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Seraphim you assume you can thrust through the armor, though. Honestly, I feel like there's a point at which it makes more sense to don a powered exoskeleton, drop the useless pointy things and break out the ju jutsu instead. $\endgroup$ Feb 3 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Starfish Prime More like thrust through the gaps in the armour but yea, knights did grapple a lot in melee, they just did it with daggers as well. $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Feb 3 at 21:55
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Electroshapable material

As it's about fantasy we can go a bit out of bounds. Using batteries and such to just up the voltage and ampere can do the trick, but seem single trick ponies that are limited in repeatability if at all. Another idea I had was fractal burning. With an electrode on a wire that flips over the target to make internal fractal burns you could do big damage, but the power needed would already be a weapon itself (besides definitely violating many Geneva conventions). I realised most if not all electrical methods would require a voltage and ampere that it would already be dangerous on it's own and likely unpractical for it's power requirement. So I focused on the weapon itself.

Electroshapable material can be used in many ways. In a fantasy setting one can argue that the electricity shapes the material in such a way it'll become unusually sharp. Depending on the shapable material not a lot of current is required.

If magical thinking with sharpness goes to far, we can use it differently. Bash someone with a mace and the low voltage circuit closes. This causes spikes to form from Electroshapable material, adding some damage if it can penetrate armour (which maces aren't designed to do). The hilt can also extend during the swing, using leverage to impact harder.

Spears can have this with a thrust. During the thrust the material will extend under the electricity. It'll extend the spear for extra reach and power. The material can be in the shaft and not the point.

The hilt of a sword can also extend, allowing for different methids of attack. An example can be a short spear configuration.

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There's a reason we don't use electric weapons as a main weapon. In a world where electric weapons are common, people would wear armor resistant to electricity, and a common material that is resistant to electricity is leather. It's not that hard to make taser proof armor. Just wear thick clothes.

As such, each weapon will probably be designed to penetrate armor with a bladed weapon or find gaps in armor and deliver a big charge.

I would probably use something like a body clip. In fencing we don't like to stab people with sharp weapons as they'd die, so we use a circuit where when the edge touches someone, an electrical signal is sent that triggers a hit.

You could rewire this so that it was set up to deliver a shock. You'd have wires running along each weapon, and when the weapon hit it would deliver a nasty electrical shock.

Batteries are bulky and you probably want a lot more than 10% weight. As such, you could have the wires go up your shirt to a pack you put on your back. That way the actual weapon only has the weight of the wires, and you can move it almost as fast as a normal weapon.

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  • $\begingroup$ The point is not to find ways why it wouldnt work. Also a taser, as mentioned, is specifically designed NOT to kill (unless you are hit at just the wrong place, but that is an unintended consequence). I specifically mentioned that to make sure people would NOT use tasers and cattleprods as examples because they are bad examples of a killing electric weapon. Also as mentioned they are supposed to aid a spear, mace or sword in the killing process, rather than have the weapon designed from the ground up as electric weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 2 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ I did give you a way it would work. I gave a clear answer of how to work around the common counters to tasers to make an electrical weapon functional and deadly. You use the sharp points of a blade to stab inside someone and deliver a shock inside their body. Also, my method is able to easily modify existing weapons to have a nice shock. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Feb 2 at 20:09
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Ancient Weapon Update

Ever heard of a macuahuitl? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macuahuitl This was popular among indigenous people of (now) Mexico and South America. It's somewhere between a mace and a sword: carefully arranged bits of sharp rock embedded in a stick. Modern materials could update this to make a more deviating, electric, anti-personell weapon.

For energizing: each of the blades could be made of metal and act as a "plate" of a capacitor, allowing a shock to be delivered when two "plates"/blades make contact. If only one blade makes contact, the electricity may travel through the target to ground. Both of these behaviors can be desirable. (Bonus: modular blades make repair and sharpening easy!)

This shock need not be lethal in itself: it merely needs to distract or stun the enemy for a short time. Fencers and martial artists know that even small distractions can be the difference between beating the enemy and being beat. Should the target spasm or be distracted by an arc, this could open up the opportunity for a follow up strike.

Armored opponents or opponents who block still run the risk of being shocked, as any electricity from this macuahuitl will attempt to "go to ground", potentially right through their bodies! As stated before, this could cause them to spasm, giving an opening for another blow.

Obviously, the main counter to any electrical weapon is to simply be non-conductive. Polymers and composite shields would be required to prevent most effects of this electricity. This could be as simple as a wood shield (or clear riot shields), but a heavy macuahuitl could penetrate more than a simple mace or sword.

What About Weight?

Additionally, the overall weight of a weapon takes a back-seat to the balance of the weapon in terms of "performance". Obviously, there are limits here on overall weight. Too heavy and it is too slow for combat. Too light and it is difficult to do harm. Hand weapons within these bounds can sit somewhere on a spectrum from "be fast" to "hit hard".

Embedding batteries into the grip/hilt/pommel would likely cause the least amount of problems for weapons in the "be fast" end. (Spears, thrust-optimized swords would fall into this category.) More batteries, and more mass away from the hand would help the "hit hard" kind of weapon. (Maces, clubs, cut-optimized swords). This is a matter of personal preference, user strength, and weapon design.

Macuahuitls, as far as I can tell, are a bit closer to cut-optimized swords. Placing batteries near the hand and into the body of the weapon would be ideal, although one would have to be careful to design proper covers which can take a beating.

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As other answers have already established, a strong enough current would kill a person, if kept up for some time. The thing is, most of the melee weapons are not designed to keep a prolonged contact with the flesh of the attacked. They are supposed to cut, stab or crush, with only a moment kept in contact. The weapons that are supposed to stay in the wound are mostly thrown ones - arrows, javelins or harpoons. The only group of weapons that would profit from the ability to deliver a lethal electric shock would be rope or chain based - whips, ball on chain, or something like japanese kusarigama. You tangle your opponent with it, catch his arm, or even a sword, an then trigger an electric shock, killing him.

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Vibroweapons.

vibroweapon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R35MvOs9nEU

Usually when I learn something is in Star Wars I group it with blasters and Wookies: fun fake stuff. But vibrating knives are real and they really work.

https://www.sonics.com/site/assets/files/Ultrasonic-Food-Cutting-Technology.pdf

How Ultrasonic Food Cutting Works and Why You Should Consider It Ultrasonic food cutting is a process utilizing knives that vibrate at high frequency. Applying ultrasonic vibration to a cutting tool creates a nearly frictionless cutting surface which provides many benefits. This low friction cutting surface can slice a multitude of food products cleanly and without smearing.

An electric motor which rapidly vibrates a blade allows it to cut more easily. If you want to augment cutting weapons in your world, adding an electric vibrator would be a realistic way to do it.

Don't tell any Mandalorians that I said any part of them was realistic or you might hurt their feelings.

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Frame Challenge - Lethality is not a Problem

If you hit someone with a melee weapon, it is every bit as fatal as shooting them. For an armored opponent, some melee weapons may actually be better - for someone wearing a ballistic vest, a 9mm round to the chest is likely less deadly than a mace blow to the chest.

The Problem is Getting the Hit!

The real issue with melee weapons in modernish combat is closing the distance. Someone can raise their gun, sight down the barrel, and fire a lot faster than their opponent can run 20 meters and swing their blade.

So use your electric mods to solve that problem.

Potential Modifications

Anything that interferes with target acquisition would be a good mod. A mod that shines a bright light at any face it identifies, or a mod that uses a pulse of directed sound to disrupt someone's equilibrium would both be useful.

Likewise, something that creates a false target would be good - you could have a small drone that attaches to the tip of your mace, and lights up and takes flight on command. It doesn't have to actually attack the enemy - just create motion and light to draw the eye and prevent them from shooting while your fighter closes the distance.

Finally, anything that makes the melee fighter faster is a good mod - maybe the weighted end of the mace is a giant battery, and it gives a jolt to the combat suit that lets it move faster / hit harder on command. This would let you close the distance more quickly AND be more likely to kill someone through their armor.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not mad about the downvote - frame challenges sometimes sit wrong with people. I am curious about the reasoning, though. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Feb 3 at 16:46

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