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I've just been on What would be the ideal melee weapon for someone with superhuman strength? stating that big weapon in games are mostly unusable, even with superhuman strength.

I was looking for answers about long-range weapons after reading the accepted one, then I reread the question again. (Some people did answer that a little).


Now I wonder if a huge bow would be better than a giant arbalest or lances (or even that weird prehistoric device that was used to throw spears/spikes). How would they scale with strength ? Could a bow pierce multiple targets?

I'm mostly thinking of medieval weapons: I'm pretty sure a real life Team Fortress Heavy might easily win if this wasn't the case (with a huge anti-aircraft like weapon). Maybe Anor Londo's archers might be even tougher enemies.

The main question is: What is the best ranged weapon using this super strength? But of course it includes what new tactics it might need/add, and all kind of ranges (short, middle, long, enormous).


Edits in response to comments: I'll keep it medieval. Let's say he's more of a mercenary, because of his strength he is pretty rich and has access to the best blacksmiths around the world, to fulfil his needs.

So technology can't be too advanced (no carbon microfibre). But they can make special/high quality weapons for him.

His contracts include helping small squads (10 people) to armies (hundreds and sometimes thousands).

He doesn't like to work completely alone, because even though he is super strong, he is not any faster / agile / dexterous, or any more resistant.

He controls his strength very well, so he will stop forcing before the weapon crushes (for instance a wooden bow), and trains a lot to know his weapon's weaknesses.

Of course he has a melee weapon when it comes to this, but he prefers to kill as many as he can from a distance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just the weapon, or do the technologies have to be consistent with the era as well? Essentially, carbon microfiber chainmail or metal ring chainmail? $\endgroup$ – Imperator Aug 26 '16 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ Asoub the "best" weapons often depends on the situation you are in, could you elaborate on your question a bit? $\endgroup$ – James Aug 26 '16 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ I guess it depends on how strong we're talking. I would imagine throwing a supernova at someone would be pretty much unbeatable. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Aug 26 '16 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ The atlatl is not weird! $\endgroup$ – Xplodotron Aug 26 '16 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ I have read a comedic little story about a human with superhuman strength where he/she threw halberds, javelins, swords and cannonballs to destroy a castle gate wall while not exactly viable on economical standpoint is highly entertaining and simple(like throwing knifes, kitchen knifes would do fine). With superhuman strength, a scaled down version of the ballista would work fine or a cannon if you like a real ranged weapon which fires projectiles. $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 28 '16 at 7:29
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Much of this is more or less opinion. There isnt that much difference between vertical and horizontal archery. The difference in power between bows and crossbow-type weapons depends on the kind of materials used for the propulsion mechanism and the type of mechanism.

There were basically four types of mechanisms used to propell projectiles.

  1. Muscle Power
  2. Counterweight
  3. Mechanical Deformation
  4. Torsion

Muscle Power Many earlier ranged weapons used muscle power to propell projectiles over short distances. It began with throwing stones and spears, but quite soon got supported with levers and slings, creating weaponized slings and spear throwers. They were both quite accurate and quite powerful for the time over shorter distances. This would be a prime candidate for your scenario, although its usefulness will depend on the kind of armor and equipment the enemy is likely to field.

Counterweight Not feasible. Couterweight based weapons are good for catapults, but are much too heavy and large to be used as a carried weapon. You would get much more use from all of the other options.

Mechanical Deformation Yes, essentially bows and crossbows. With these it comes down to preference: The power of both depends mostly on the materials used and the size / form of the limbs. They are being loaded differently, and they use different types of projectiles. Crossbows seem to be easier to aim with, as they can be aimed "rifle-like", which seems to need much less training than using a bow, due to not needing to hold the tension of the limbs manually, and the way a rifle is aimed (especially at closer distances). You can ready a crossbow beforehand without much effort and let it stay ready some time, where with the bow this isn't really possible. With loading the main difference seems to be that with a bow you dont need to take your eyes off of your target, I believe the loading time is negligable when used with similar limb strengths. However, you could use much stronger limbs if you assist the tensioning of the crossbow limbs with a lever or a winch, both of which isnt possible with a bow. However, loading a crossbow with a lever or winch will take more time than tensioning a bow of lower power (obviously).

I'd say this is more a matter of preference. If the priority lies with readyness, ease of aim or raw power, go with a crossbow. If Situational awareness and loading time is preferred, use a bow.

Torsion Power This is similar to mechanical deformation power in that its power depends on the material of the torsion material, the length of the limbs and the length of the lever. You will not need as long limbs as with mechanical deformation, as the force will depend on the torsion material, not the limbs. A major example for weapons of this type is the Roman Ballista. You can achieve great power with shorter limbs at the price of loading time.

Use this if you need a stronger weapon, but don't care about loading.

Projectiles

  • Stones or Bullets
  • Spears
  • Arrows and Bolts
  • Chemicals
  • Bombs

Stones, Rocks and Bullets are good against unprotected targets and, depending on the weight of the rock, against hardened targets the same way you might use a warhammer against armored targets. Its unlikely to penetrate a target with these, the only way to harm multiple target is either use a large enough rock or let the force of impact throw the target against another (if its that superhuman). Rocks are also much more available ;)

Spears are practical and have a lot of mass behind their tip, making them deadly on short distances. However they are most useful when they are able to penetrate the target. They have more impact on non-penetrated targets in comparison to bolts or arrows, but not really that useful. They are well suited for combat though, as can be seen with the power of spear throwers (like the atlatl), Roman Pilums(although not technically a spear) and Greek Peltasts javelins. EDIT: apparently, both the Romans and the Greek used a sling in a similar way to the atlatl, called Ankule or Amentum, to propel their javelins over longer distances, which also gave them spin.

Bolts and Arrows have good range and penetrate quite well, cut well and can be used to spread fire. While with some kind of arrows, you could penetrate multiple targets, but since you destry the aerodynamics of the projectile by going though a target, you're unlikely to hit anything (or even at the right angle to penetrate another). Obviously, if the Bolt is large enough, it has similar properties to larger rocks in that it will hit multiple targets (which has been used with Roman Ballistas).

Chemicals are very dangerous for their size. In medieval / ancient times, greek fire and even quicklime could be used, although I think quicklime is only found later in the 17-18 hundreds. Not sure though. Both were highly effective weapons.

Bombs: Well, you know... possibly, though I'd gauge incendiaries like greek fire to be far more likely.

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    $\begingroup$ A major problem with arrows, and bolts (and potentially spears) is that when accelerated fast enough, they tend to snap in half. This is particularly true of arrows and bolts because you accelerate them from the back end, which means the front end takes some time before moving forward, which bends the projectile. So if you increase the force on the back of an arrow, you have to also increase the thickness of said arrow or else it becomes useless, and then at a certain point you are just shooting a spear out of a crossbow, which is basically just a hand-held ballista $\endgroup$ – Kevin Wells Aug 26 '16 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ @KevinWells: yeah, this is problematic if you want to put more energy into an arrow over the same distance (so the bow can still be used with normal-length arms). That's another advantage to the atlatl: you can make it longer to impart the same energy over more time. (see my answer). $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Aug 27 '16 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the primary purpose of the Roman pilum is not to kill adversaries, who typically can use their shield to ward off the blow, but to make those shields useless and force their abandonment. A shield with a large heavy metal spearhead protruding from it loses all usefulness from the loss of balance. This makes those adversaries much more vulnerable in the subsequent close combat. $\endgroup$ – Pieter Geerkens Aug 27 '16 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @PieterGeerkens yes, I am aware of that. I wanted to at least give an example for known spear-like weapons. I have seen some videos about the power of throwing spears on youtube, it seems convincing enough. $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Aug 29 '16 at 7:05
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In the Discworld books by Sir Terry Pratchett, Seargant Detritus the troll carries around a siege crossbow designed to fire bolts through city gates. He uses two types of bolt. Huge iron bolts to rip through stuff and special bundles of smaller arrows held together with twine. When fired the twine snaps leading to a cloud of arrows flying at his opponents. This weapon would allow your super strength guy to fire at multiple targets as well as break through doors and/or walls. On top of this the weapon won't break under the strains put on it. Another plus is that shields won't be much of a problem. Negatives are that it is slow to reload and that ammo costs will be high. It also can't really be used to wound. It may be hard to balance and aim due to its length so it isn't a precision weapon. As a bonus he can also use this weapon to club people with if they get in close.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the "Piecemaker". Note - the later books describe the siege crossbow as placing so much strain on the bundle of arrows that not only does the taught string audibly hum, it in fact creates an expanding cloud of flaming splinters! $\endgroup$ – Miller86 Aug 26 '16 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Miller86 Thanks, I couldn't remember the name of the crossbow. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 26 '16 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ "when mr. safety catch is not on, mr. crossbow is not your friend" $\endgroup$ – Burki Aug 26 '16 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ As much as I love Terry Pratchet, nothing in Discworld is Science Based, as this question is. Can materials for a real bow stand up to that kind of stress? $\endgroup$ – BobTheAverage Oct 17 '17 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ @bellerophon I have read all of Discworld. I am familiar with the bow. Pratchett writes whatever he thinks is funny, but no one would tag his books as science based. $\endgroup$ – BobTheAverage Oct 17 '17 at 15:32
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I think a spear-thrower (atlatl) might work really well as a short to medium range, high rate of fire weapon. They were/are used as hunting weapons, with good accuracy for experienced users.

Even if the guy starts out carrying something qualitatively different from things that are practical with normal strength, like a siege crossbow or flamethrower a 渡し守シャロン's answer suggests, an atlatl makes a great backup or closer-range weapon.

A group of people with you trained in spear-fighting probably works great. They can carry extra spears for you to throw, and you can scavenge ammo from the battlefield if you or the enemy has pikemen.


A bow or crossbow large & strong enough to take advantage of super-strength is probably hard to make. But a spear-thrower has no moving parts, so it doesn't need advanced metal springs or huge pieces of wood. The energy you can put into a spear with an atlatl should scale very well with strength, for a user of constant height / arm-length, and you can throw long spears without it being too big to hold easily. (I imagine that a strong enough bow might have to be really large, and maybe have a draw length longer than a normal human armspan.)

Having to carry around a ranged weapon that doesn't fit through doors is a problem, even if the weight isn't an issue.

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Simplicity is best enough. Historically one of the deadliest weapons wielded by humans especially against animals is the stone. Humans are deadly accurate at throwing stones. After all, it's how David killed Goliath, but once you take into the deadliness of catapults and stone throwing then Goliath was outgunned.

The practice of stone-throwing has deep religious, cultural and historical resonance, and is grounded in the age-old use of slinging stones among young rural herders whose task it was both to keep watch on livestock, and ward off predators of family flocks, and to hunt birds.

Collecting pebbles or stones and delivering at speeds only comparable to bullets or high-speed munitions by a person with super-strength would be formidable and terrifying to enemy combatants.

A single pebble thrown at super-speed, in relative medieval terms, would be a tiny missile of invisible and silent death.

Supported by a squad the super-strong stone thrower could hurl deadly missiles at rates while not necessarily approaching that of machine gun would be as devastating.

Ammunition acquisition can be as simple as collecting pebbles. Nothing could be as low tech as that. This how the Palaeolithic waged its wars. A super-strong stone thrower simply carries the tradition to its logical conclusion.

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  • $\begingroup$ The guy is super-strong without super-speed/agility. There's a limit to the arm-speed you can generate; it won't scale very well with strength without some kind of mechanical advantage. (e.g. strong guy can use a longer lever than normal people, so his arm moves at the same speed while he applies more force, imparting much more kinetic energy.) $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Aug 29 '16 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes OK, so it's back to catapults David & Goliath style. I'm fine with that. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 29 '16 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you could always use larger stones... -> rocks. Besides, in ancient times slingers were skirmishers with a regular presence on battlefields. $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Aug 31 '16 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @DoomedMind. Rocks, boulders, & big stones. A superstrong slinger could be a one-man artillery unit. I like your suggestion. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 31 '16 at 12:36
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OK, this is totally off the wall, but it might be appropriate.

He's the muscle for an entire battalion of linked siege weapons. Instead of taking minutes to crank the counterweight up for a trebuchet, or pull the lever arm down for a catapult, he can set up multiples of these weapons in just a few seconds. One character with super strength, along with a crew for each of a half-dozen weapons, could launch a barrage of 300-pound boulders several times a minute.

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Conditions

The person with super strength is in every other way a normal person.

Crossbow

Without a doubt, a crossbow is the best weapon. Since the only advantage, he has is strength then all other skill-related aspects are the same as for anyone else. A crossbow is mainly limited to the users' ability to draw it. A crossbow can be scaled up to a certain level (the recoil doesn't knock him over). It's simple to use and accurate at that with minimal training.

Spears/ thrown weapons

Spears require a hell of a lot of practice and skill to use effectively. Throwing a massive spear sounds great but since he's in all other aspects a normal person, he'd probably just fall over himself since he will not be magically bolted to the ground. Thus he cannot use his strength to its full potential unless he puts his back against a wall or something to brace himself.

Generally thrown weapons require a lot of training, axes, rocks etc could be used but they would still be quite unreliable.

Bows

Bows are great weapons, but not nearly as powerful as a crossbow. The crossbow is probably just as fast for our hero since he could probably draw a 200-pound crossbow with his two hands very easily. Or perhaps even a 400-pound crossbow with some leg-help without much effort. (Depending on his actual strength) Bows also require extensive training to be good. Medieval archers trained from a very young age up into adulthood to be consistent enough.

Slings

Slings are another alternative that probably requires more luck than skill to use effectively.

Summary

Crossbows for their ease of use and great power coupled with our hero's great strength, are the best alternative. Crossbows that normal people would need specialized gear to draw is no problem for our hero.

Crossbows using windlass systems as shown below are immensely powerful but took a lot of time to draw. Not a problem for our super strong hero.

Windlass Crossbow

In addition to this, add some really good armor to our hero (a shield?) and a substantial amount of crossbow bolts and you have yourself a super strong killing machine.

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I’d say anything thrown because thinks like bows, crow bows and ballista are all restrained by their physical capabilities. You can only pull a bow back so far.

Sorry this is the first answer I’ve given here. So here’s some elaboration.

When using a bow the limitations are set by how much the bow will bend and how much the string will be able to pull back. So anybody who can pull the bowstring back to the fullest extent will maximize the damage the weapon can do.

On the other hand, a thrown weapon utilizes the form and the strength of the person throwing it. So if someone has super strength they would possibly be able to thrown the weapon hard enough to reach maximum velocity.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you elaborate a bit? One-line answer are usually received poorly by the community. And as far as I know bows and modern carbon and glass composites, increasing bow energy is not stopped by materials but by human limits. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 17 '17 at 14:13

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