I am writing a rule system for a homebrew space sci-fi tabletop RPG. As part of this process I also need to come up with gear to give my players.

My setting, with two major exceptions that don't affect melee weaponry, my setting is set in very hard science. I like things like carbon nano-tubes, and megastructures, and fusion that are understood now or theorised now but hard to do. Basically, I don't want anything that requires new science.

Other questions on this site have already dealt with the question of whether or not melee is ever viable and proven that it is in many cases. Just not usually warfare. This will be reflected in the guns being mostly superior but, due to roleplaying situations, sometimes the guns will become less viable or unavailable. Therefore, I need to give players the option of carrying, and being skilled in, melee weapons. (Or martial arts)

How would melee weaponry (like knives, brass knuckles, and shock batons) be improved in the future? And what about defences? Could we see retractable perspex-like shields? A Folded Graphene Katana? Or a shock glove that works at short ranges?

Ideally it would be something already in the works, but any idea that's plausible enough is very much appreciated.


4 Answers 4


I study Historic European Martial Arts and Material Science, so I consider myself smarter than the average bear when it comes to melee weapons and how to improve them. I also authored several bits about medieval warefare in the Universe Factory. Check out the first one here!

A Side Note: There is no ideal melee weapon. I dislike it when people think that one weapon or another is best, and the katana is often that weapon. Katanas are not special: they're too stiff, short, and terrible at thrusting compared to many other kinds of swords. What you're using a weapon on is just as important as the weapon (and the techniques used), so I'm not going to talk about individual weapons, but some technologies that can change current melee weapons into super-sweet future melee weapons.

Improvements To Existing Weapons: Materials and Manufacturing

Graphene-Infused Rubber: this should be used in grips and to absorb impacts, like in the handle of a shock baton. The graphene reportedly increases the durability of the rubber. Sneakers that never wear out, armor that will always absorb impacts but still have amazing durability.

Functionally Graded Materials: these are materials that are assembled so that one or more properties change with location. They can be used in blades, for example, to keep a very hard edge but then have the blade not be brittle, so you can use it to block attacks without it shattering. These could be found in a shock baton which is graded like a mantis shrimp's club to greatly increase its strength and durability.

Memory Metals: If you make a blade out of a memory metal, you need to only heat it up to allow it to re-form into it's ideally sharpened state. While this won't give you an edge in combat, it certainly would increase the durability and life of such a blade.

Graphene: This has an incredible tensile strength. If it's produced in sheets and paired with something to increase its stiffness, it can be made into weapons and armor.

Highly Ordered Materials: better manufacturing techniques could let us have better products, like abalone-inspired armor. Abalone-inspired armor would be amazing against bullet strikes: maybe even rendering low to mid powered guns totally useless! That is, until someone walks up and simply hits in the gaps of the armor.


Attack and defence weapons and armour have been around for all of recorded history, and long into prehistory (the Palaeolithic era gets its name because hominids of various species were making tools out of rocks). You can always postulate that things can become better with improved material science, technology for manufacturing and so on. A Katana was made by folding steel in feudal Japan because the iron ore was of a fairly low quality, today we could make a katana using high quality alloys and computer controlled machines to ensure the temperatures in the forge, the pressure of the hammers etc. were controlled to a high degree of accuracy.

Similarly, armour can be made using various high strength materials, and using modern computer simulations and mapping to make the armour fit and move accurately to each individual person.

But this isn't very futuristic at all, rather updating age old ideas.

Perhaps the most advanced idea for a universal weapon/armour is the idea of "Utility Fog"

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Individual unit of utility fog

The person has a cloud of "fog" surrounding them at all times (alternatively, if the local laws and customs discourage this, they could keep the "fog" in a bottle or container on their person). Under normal conditions, the foglets are spaced far enough part they don't impede vision, but when an attack or threat is detected, they can close up to form a shield. If it is an incoming projectile, they may form a sponge like shield, gradually increasing in density and hardness towards the person being protected. This sort of shield also dissipates energy from swords, clubs, ASP batons and other striking or piercing weapons.

Froglets can also spring into action and link together to create a weapon for the person to use. While it is unlikely they could assemble an automatic pistol in a reasonable amount of time, they could create a single shot Derringer type pistol. or the obligatory sword, knife or other hand weapon.

enter image description here

A 4 shot derringer. It is the future, after all

The other advantage of a cloud of utility fog is it provides early warning, and can also be used to provide first aid, build a radio or antenna to help signalling people and even join cooperatively with your friends and allies "fog" to make larger zones of protection and weapons.


  • $\begingroup$ I really like this and may well use it but I don't think I could give something like this to the players. It would be a bit game breaking. Was this your own idea? $\endgroup$
    – Disgusting
    Aug 26, 2017 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ Utility fog is an idea coined by Dr. John Storrs Hall in 1993. You can always "program" your utility fog to act or react in certain ways in order to keep your game balanced (for example, maybe you can only get utility fog from the local police, and it is not programmed to make weapons at all, or will tangle illegal users in a net). Utility fog would also need to be able to harvest energy from the external environment, and could also be jammed with EW weapons, so there are lots of limitations. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Aug 26, 2017 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Douglas One approach I have seen for weakening such overpowered tools is to limit how well the player can control them. If you think about it, we evolved to control our body, not a cloud of nanomachines. It actually takes some skill to stop a bullet with a fog without accidentally stopping your friend's hand as they try to high-five you, so not everyone could have their fog programmed to stop bullets. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 28, 2017 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ Only the most skilled could cause their fog to do "anything." $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 28, 2017 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ That's a pretty nifty idea actually. It could function as a parry roll but for bullets it gets a penalty. $\endgroup$
    – Disgusting
    Aug 28, 2017 at 5:57

For weapons relying on cutting, you may want to have swarms of nanobots crawling their surface and taking care of the edge of the blade being constantly sharp, something like osteoblasts and osteoclasts do with our bones.

After each fight you wouldn't have to worry about sharpening the blade, it would be taken care by itself.

The same nanobots could also take care of the geometry of the blade, i.e. a non lethal configuration with flat edge (for stunning only, not for cutting) to be used in certain situation and a lethal configuration when needed.


Hmm ... can we expect people to be largely unarmored? I'm getting a visual of desperate brawls in back alleys; starveling cast-offs of the magical technic civilization fighting savagely with whatever tech scraps they can find.

If so, how about sonic weapons [1]? There are weapons which can hurt, can kill, or can incapacitate. Just make sure all your guys are over here, and all their guys are over there.

You might have some kind of nanowire ... can cut through anything. If you can put handles on it (heh) you have one heck of a garotte. If it's cheap enough, string it up at calf level as a trap.

You might imagine that there is some kind of handheld device which can alter mental states by induction on nerves. Originally intended for medicine, it quickly became used for vice, and then murder. Only defense is to more or less have a wire-mesh faraday cage around your head.

In this no-armor scenario, I think you'll find that the old fashioned stuff works pretty well, too. A good uppercut can still knock a guy out. A knife will still cut (okay, you can have it be a reciprocating blade ;D). Heck, a baseball bat to the head will still get 'er done. I think martial arts will be viable on these streets.

Imagine that the odd piece of technology is a game-changer on the streets -- for as long as its charge lasts. A gangster might fuel his entire rise to power off a stolen police body armor vest. A madam might protect her House because everyone knows she has a laser pistol, and nobody's quite sure how many charges.

So your RPG heroes might be expected -- if they're fighting on the Law's side -- to be better equipped than their foes, and can afford better training, but will always be outnumbered.

[1] Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonic_weapon

  • $\begingroup$ was hoping for good armour too as part of what makes melee more viable. Lots of Kevlar about but that can't stop a baseball bat kinda thing. Like the cheese wire idea though and sonic weapons sound cool as. $\endgroup$
    – Disgusting
    Aug 28, 2017 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. If you're going to have armor, you'll want compression/clamp weapons (think a vise with a motor). Maybe biologicals, wasp-guns and the like. Aerosols are good -- even with armor, you still need to breathe. Is armor heavy? Hard to get back up? If it is, maybe some martial arts with a lot of kicks and sweeps and judo influence to knock people over. Just for rule-of-cool, how bout a guy with a huge sledgehammer to cause spalling inside the armor... $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Aug 28, 2017 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ Armour is mostly pretty light. It's only really heavy duty stuff that'll weigh you down any. The people who use that would be pretty much only in the front line of combat and essentially tanks unto themselves. (Think like a mechsuit/supersoldier) $\endgroup$
    – Disgusting
    Aug 28, 2017 at 14:54

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