My story is set in a medieval fantasy setting.

The Empire has the ability to create "Soulless". These are able bodied men and women who have been stripped of their free will and personality. In essence, they are meat automatons. After the process is finished, a soulless will only take orders from specific imperial commanders , known as emissaries, unless told otherwise. One needn't give them explicit orders. They are capable of understanding the meaning of more vague orders like, "Attack", "Bring him here", etc.

Soulless will follow orders without a moment's hesitation. While they have enough self preservation instincts to protect themselves or to avoid obvious obstacles, but this can be overridden by a command, such as: "Walk into that burning building" or "Stab yourself with a rusty spoon".

They do not , or at least do not seem to, experience pain. A soulless will never show emotion. You can systematically shatter its bones or attempt long term psychological torture, but it will not react.

There are a few drawbacks. Soulless lack initiative. Once they have completed their order, they will return to their commanded for further orders. For instance, they will fight in a battle, but will not pursue fleeing enemies, but won't pursue do to them being a non threat. They are by all accounts, still human. They need to be cared for like any pet (food, water, sleep, occasional cuddles, etc.). They will push themselves until their bodies give in, so attrition is a valid tactic. Just like humans, they posses squishy organs, whose absence result in death.

I intend for the soulless to be a very real and very scary threat. Something that even a seasoned veteran is afraid to fight. So, would the soulless prove to be a much greater threat than a standard enemy?

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    $\begingroup$ Highly related: Creating super soldiers by removing emotion (singular). It deals with super soldiers by removing exactly one emotion and the answers might give you some interesting ideas. Other than that your soldiers sound a lot like zombies, so maybe Zombie army is a bad idea - but why actually? might be an interesting read, too. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 21 '17 at 10:39
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think they have much place on the battlefield. I personally would use them as body guards and such. But I remember reading a book where it was stated that when the Normans besieged a city in Sicily, none of the soldiers wanted to climb the ladders to enter the city because nobody wanted to die (one soldier finally did it and climbed back down immediately afterwards). I do not find that story with a quick google search though, otherwise this would be an answer. Does anyone remember reading it as well? That would be a great use of your zombies $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 21 '17 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ You may want to read up on congenital analgesia. Wikipedia's introductory paragraph sums it up nicely: "Congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP), also known as congenital analgesia, is one or more rare conditions in which a person cannot feel (...) physical pain. [...] Because feeling physical pain is vital for survival, CIP is an extremely dangerous condition. It is common for people with the condition to die in childhood due to injuries or illnesses going unnoticed. Burn injuries are one of the more common injuries." $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 21 '17 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ There is a reason we evolutionarily adapted to feel pain and it is not because it doesn't help! $\endgroup$ – Clangorous Chimera Jun 21 '17 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ I think what you want is not a soldier who cannot feel pain but a soldier who is not debilitated by that pain. "I have been scratched" still registers, but that it can be ignored until time permits. Your premise is to remove all the warning lights and sounds from the cabin, when what you really need is a pilot who can mute the alarms and calmly react with, "Ok, this is bad, lets see what we can do..." and not have to worry about the distraction the light and noise are creating. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jun 21 '17 at 19:16

The ability to not feel pain actually exists. It is called Congenital insensitivity to pain.

It is very rare, mostly because people who suffer from it rarely survive into adulthood. Humans beings need to feel pain in order to survive; it's the thing that tells us that what is happening is not good for our continued survival.

You would be losing tons of your soldiers to basic diseases, untreated minor injuries, over-stressing muscles and tons of other things that normal humans would realize are going to be fatal.

Emotions are in the same basket; your body needs fear to know that something is endangering its survival. Your body needs rage to drive you to try and destroy opposition. Your body needs love to make you protect others.

What you really need to make a powerful soldier, is a human who is in control of their emotions, who can act despite fear, and who knows how much pain he can ignore for the cause, without dying needlessly as a result.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what veterans are.

(For comparison; you are doing the equivalent of "Because of reports of soldiers breaking down over the horrors they have seen, I've created an army of blind guys. How dangerous are they going to be?". You are removing important input-sensors from your soldiers because they sometimes cause problems, but in doing so you are removing the ability to gather a ton of important information they need to do their job as well.)

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    $\begingroup$ An interesting note: one of the issues faced by people with insensitivity to pain starts to form when teeth finally erupt. This is a difficult time for a child that cannot feel pain. They will try to eat their own fingers off, for their fingers taste like fresh meat and they have no pain stimulus to tell them to stop. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 21 '17 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Illustrations: did you ever accidentally burn yourself? Imagine if you didn't notice it until you started smelling something burned, and then some time to realize it's you. Did you ever accidentally hurt your butt by sitting on some keys in your back pocket? Imagine if, instead of immediately getting up and swearing, you continued to sit on them with your full weight for hours. $\endgroup$ – Emilio M Bumachar Jun 21 '17 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ You are of course right... however, I wonder if perhaps the fearless, painless soldier is what the Soviet Union wished they had in the battle of Stalingrad... (At least at some stages...) What would happen if a nation with lots of resources in men had this kind of soldiers...? $\endgroup$ – Erk Jun 22 '17 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Erk even more people would have died and even less would have been accomplished. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 22 '17 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Jesus christ, that's a horrifying thought. It sounds like something out of a psychological horror novel. "I bite into my fingers, enjoying the sweet taste of fresh meat. I don't mind they're my own, I don't feel the pain anyway, just the delicious taste of blood and flesh as I chew and bite until there's nothing left." $\endgroup$ – Sydney Sleeper May 21 '18 at 0:33

The premise is flawed. They are not scary, they are useless. An army of soldiers who are not afraid at all, do not feel pain, and completely lack initiative, is something one would wish their enemy had.

  • Without fear they will take unnecessary risks.
  • Without pain they would not react to small wounds and die of infection.
  • And without initiative they won't even shoot without a direct order and will let themselves be slaughtered like sheep...
  • $\begingroup$ "While they have enough self preservation instincts to protect themselves or to avoid obvious obstacles". :/ They lack initiative, but they are not completely mindless imbeciles. $\endgroup$ – Faerindel Jun 21 '17 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Faerindel: So shoot them from a distance. Encircle them without showing your weapons. Etc. Etc. A soldier without initiative is no good. One of the basic rules in an army is that a soldier will use their initiative to carry out the intentions of their commander. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 21 '17 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ Shooting from a distance falls into basic self preservation, so the reaction is the same. Encircling without showing weapons just makes it easier for them if their order is to not let anyone but XYZ pass, or attack. They are super-lousy guards, though. If anything their value is in open battle. $\endgroup$ – Faerindel Jun 21 '17 at 11:33

As core, possibly heavy, infantry, quite dangerous in open battles. Battles were often decided by which side started to have units routing, with domino effect.

Facing an enemy that you will have to annihilate is scary, because it will cost you many men to do such. They are also more resilient against cavalry charges event when outflanked, which is quite bad for the cavalry, since it relies on infantry desorganizing and suffer if that doesn't happen.

For normal imperial infantry it's also a plus. Having a unit at your side that simply won't crumble and let the enemy outflank you is reassuring.

Even they not fucking off and overchasing an enemy against orders (although this was more of a problem with noble cavalry) is an advantage.

Their obvious disadvantage is their reliance on a micromanaging commander.

If the commander is not very detail oriented and capable the soulless will lose much of their efficiency. Incapacitate that commander or just get him too busy and the soulless will be get in trouble.

Also in ambushes, skirmishes and sieges are scenarios where smaller unit initiative is important, so they will be much less useful.
And as guards they are simply awful.

And well, depending on how the commander gives them orders, there is a limit on how many soulless a single commander will be able to command effectively. If it's tied to voice, for example, he won't be able to use effectively more than one or two hundred or so, which is too few to be a difference.


Veterans rely on experience to be better fighters. Conventional tactics, feints, etc. can't affect those Soulless. The fact that they lack initiative BUT follow the order, whatever the danger, makes them, at the very least, annoying as hell. Example: 2 Soulless are ordered by an emissary to catch an ambassador. Said ambassador is protected by 10 guards. They will push their limits to obey. They will continue, despite being very hurt, they WILL succeed.

Evidently, they can still be killed or incapacitated. It might be really annoying to do so. Maybe the Soulless project helps them mitigate magic or something? Just make sure the evil army is not just those guy.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding LamaDelRay! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 21 '17 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ Thank ya! Scouting the site for a while, jumped on the ship. Thanks for the edit too! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 21 '17 at 10:44

Read a story about WWI trench war. Remove the instinct to hide in bomb craters because there was an order "seize that trench", remove the initiative to toss grenades or switch from rifle to small weapons to fight in the trench, remove the pain that force soldiers to fall and lay on the ground. You will have perfect targets, just fixate whatever weapon you have on the head level.
You just made zombies with an ability to use weapons.

A veteran soldiers would just sit in one place with a pike and stab all those soulless zombies in the face.

It would be better to mass produce cows and equip them with bayonets.

  • $\begingroup$ Notice the medieval setting. $\endgroup$ – Faerindel Jun 21 '17 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ Bomb craters = Trou de loup, grenades = arrows or any thrown weapon, rifle = pikes and halberds and shields, small arms - swords and daggers. There is small difference between trench war and medieval wars. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 21 '17 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ There is actually a lot of difference - by WWI, destructive abilities of the weapons exceeded any protective abilities. Until the development of rifle cartridge, attackers always preferred packed formations like line or column. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 21 '17 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ If an unit panicks and routs in WWI their officers can collect them some miles backwards, punish and redeploy. If an unit panicks and routs in an open, medieval battle, enemy cavalary will chase it and kill/capture eveybody. Fear is lot more constructive in WWI setting, but even there turns out that 'zombie heroism' is helpful in defense. Imagine a soldier firing the machine gun like a machine, and not retreating to the second thrench while everybody else does. Or he continues to serve the howitzer, while all his fellow gunners are wounded/dead. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Jun 21 '17 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander the line attack was a downfall of WWI strategy. That's exactly why they sit in on trench for months. That line attack was easy target for machine guns. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 22 '17 at 7:55

I think that it could definitely work in a way, but might not be worth it. A lot of what your talking about, them being immune to pain, pushing their body to the absolute limit, and following orders without hesitation, can be done to normal soldiers. Maybe they wouldn't be as effective, but you could still train normal people into being emotionless warriors like this.

But on the fear factor, these soldiers would definitely work, although I imagine that when people actually get over their fear and use their brains, they would probably be able to beat them, as they don't sound like the smartest warriors.


Those soldiers would be formidable, but not as the whole army, but rather a part of an army.

If I understand correctly, "Soulless" are comparable to ASoIaF/GoT "Unsullied", but should be inferior to the latter because they totally lack the initiative and entirely don't feel pain rather than are able to tolerate it to the highest extent.

Other answers already pointed to the flaws of such an army. That's why I think these "Soulless" should be a specialized tool, not an all-purpose tool. You won't use diamond glass cutter to hammer nails, and, conversely, won't use hammer to cut glass. "Soulless" troops should be invaluable when you need to rout an enemy's strong point, or make "last stand". They will suffer, for sure, but would be more effective than regular soldiers. Also, the psychological factor of deploying your fearless troops should demoralize your enemy.

For most other army uses (scouting, patrolling, foraging) and fighting in tactically unpredictable situations, "Soulless" would be bad, if not completely useless.

Also (addressing some of the concerns), they must be able to care for themselves, detecting and treating minor wounds and sores. Otherwise any march, even without a battle, would deplete their ranks.

  • $\begingroup$ You should link your acronym soup to clue in people reading it. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 21 '17 at 23:00

As it was pointed out in the previous answers, pain and fear is essential for survival. So, similar to Cem Kalyoncu, I would like to suggest some modificatins:

Give the the ability to switch off pain.

On default, they will still notice if their back gets fire, or if they have a small wound which needs sterilisation, but if they are captured, they can 'switch' and ignore torture, if they are lethaly wounded they can 'switch' and not demoralize allied and draw enemy attention by crying, if their leg is shot, they still can run fast when really neccesarry...

Of course you have to teach them to spare this power for really hard situations.

Change the way they react to fear.

Human fear was evolved to help against predators stronger than humans. It makes our mind block, and makes us run or hide down. In medieval combat, you do not need these instincts. Change them the following way: When a Soulless is scared, it draws its weapon, raises its shield, and runs to the closest crowd of its comrades. This is not achieved by training, it is natural response. No matter how hard have the Rebel Knights broken their line, the Soulless would quickly gather into new defensive formation.

Make secret rituals for switching off other emotions.

Anger, attachment, loyality, disgust are all quite handy normally. But if the Soulless have to mascare civilians, go trough pits of shit, calm down and rearrange the formation..., the officers only have to do the secret ritual (something simple and fast but easy to keep in secret) to switch off these unwanted emotions.

All these changes are not enough to make them supersoldiers on their own, but if they are led by capable officers and have exceptionally good training, and decent equipment, they make the soldiers more effective, whitch may changes the course of the battle.

  • $\begingroup$ I didn't finish fixing the last paragraph because I have no idea what «they meana nice plus» is supposed to be. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 21 '17 at 23:06

I will try answer the real question you haven't asked. I need a soulless, zombie like soldier who are extremely dangerous.

Now this is workable, they need to feel pain, but not startled by it. They need to feel fear but not get affected by it. Pain and fear are important to save themselves when they are not ordered to get killed. For instance, if the order is chase the running soldiers, they should not jump into a pool of lava to accomplish the task. When they are hit by something sharp, they should be able to pull themselves away, but they shouldn't shy away attacking after getting out of immediate danger. Basically, they should be like a hardened soldier who will continue the fight even if he got shot and is in pain. Difference is that the hardened soldier will be slowed by the said pain, whereas soulless will not get affected.

One additional aspect could be that they will need little sleep, and no time to mentally rest. This will make these soldiers extremely efficient. They will not get bored of training, they will not sleep while on guard duty. They cannot be bought by money or tricked.

Here you go, you have an army of very good soldiers. They will not be better than the best, but they will be many.


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