Wednesday, 13 July 2016


Around 400BC in Nemea the Greek fighters Creugas and Damoxenus fought until dusk. They resolved to permit each other a single final blow. Creugas struck Damoxenus on the head but the blow was weathered. Damoxenus had Creugas raise his arm and then struck him with his open hand, using his fingertips like a spear. Damoxenus penetrated his torso, killing Creugas.

Many other fighting styles include techniques for striking with the finger-tips.

Spear-hand is a thrusting strike executed with the tips of the stiffened fingers. Potentially the spear-hand is a very effective technique that can deliver a lot of force into a very small area. It is a good hand form for hitting small, hard to access but very vulnerable targets. In practice spear-hand is often neglected by martial artists since it cannot be used when wearing sparring gloves and many of its targets are not legal or too dangerous to attack in sporting competition. Another reason for its neglect is that developing a strong spear-hand requires more conditioning and training than most other anatomical weapons. Supposedly the way to condition your hand(s) for spear-hand is to thrust your hands into a bowl of powder or fine sand. Once used to this you work up to coarse sand, dried beans, gravel, ball bearings, and, if some movies or books are to be believed, hot rocks or coals. In GURPS Martial Arts (4e) rules for the result of this conditioning are on p.42 and p.50. Hands so conditioned have a DR1 [1] and are treated as blunt claws [3] (p.B42). Conditioning to achieve this takes 600 hours and comes with the disadvantage Bad Grip 1 [-5] (p.B123).

In Transhuman Space a similar effect can be gained by a relatively minor biomodification ($5,000 and 15 days recovery). Placing the thumb-tip on the second joint of the forefinger causes the fingers and wrist to automatically lock in the optimum configuration for powerful spear-hand strikes. Treat this as an equivalent to the blunt claws advantage (+1 damage per die) for thrusting attacks made with the hands. This bio-mod has no effect on the fighter’s grip or dexterity nor does it increase the DR of the hand. The hand appears unmodified. Actually having blunt claws has the same effect but alters the appearance of the hand. Having sharp claws or talons may increase damage and change it to impaling damage, as per p.B42.

Using a spear-hand strike itself requires the fighter to know the technique Exotic Hand Strike (MA 4e p.71) and/or Lethal Strike (MA 4e p.85). Exotic Hand Strike is Average and does thrust crushing damage plus Karate bonuses. Lethal Strike is Hard and gives thrust-2 piercing damage plus Karate bonuses. Iron-hand conditioning or the Spear-hand bio-mod add +1 for each damage die. Spear-hand requires the striking hand to be empty. Spear-hand techniques get no modifier for brass knuckles and cannot be used with boxing gloves etc.

Karatand gloves are made of a memory plastic that becomes rigid on impact (UT 4e p.163). They are described as having the same effect as brass knuckles which seems to suggest they add +1 to total damage, making a punch thr cr rather than thr-1 cr. It seems reasonable that the rigid fingers of a Karatand give +1 to spear-hand strikes. 

Fifth Wave Special Forces.

As I have described in previous articles, military operations in the Transhuman Space era often involve relatively small numbers of personnel, often tasked with operational or strategic level mission. In contemporary parlance these units would often be described as “Special Forces”. In the TS era, however, special forces have undergone a number of changes.

Missions such as special reconnaissance or direct action raiding are what might be termed “uniformed” Special Forces tasks. In the 20th and early 21st century these missions were trusted to highly trained soldiers. For Fifth wave nations such tasks are the province of selected and correctly programmed cybershells. A special reconnaissance force will often be a variety of small robots reporting to a comms crab. A raiding force might be a unit of jump-RATS inserted by a stealth glide bomb.

A consequence of this is that the responsibility for such missions has diversified. It is understandable that a marine brigade would want to invest in cybershells suited to underwater beach reconnaissance and other amphibious operations. Likewise, airborne brigades and other expeditionary forces have contingents of RATS suited to stealth. Once such establishments have the tools to conduct special operations it is not long before they begin to seek such assignments. In many Fifth wave nations special reconnaissance or small unit direct action has now become the province of more conventional forces such as the marines or airborne.

In the more conservative militaries this trend has been resisted and the special forces have tried to keep their monopoly on this responsibility. In the USA the Green Berets, SEALs, Delta and numerous other similar seeming but distinct special operations forces still exist. However, the USMC has always been keen to justify its independent existence by adopting new roles. A significant proportion of special operations have been conducted with USMC-RATS rather than those of traditional SOF units. Some observers expect this trend to extend to the 82nd Airborne and 75th Rangers.

A similar trend is seen in counter-terrorism, which some perceive as a special forces responsibility. Police departments and non-military organisations have been enthusiastic customers for cybershells capable of SWAT and hostage rescue operations. In the USA this trend has been stimulated by the Great American Insurgency.

The second trend that has reshaped Fifth wave special operations is that many more operations are covert or clandestine in nature. The result of this is that many offensive operations have been conducted under the aegis of intelligence agencies rather than that of the uniformed military. Some of these operations have been conducted by cybershells. Many nations or organisations have a stock of generic reconnaissance or combat cybershells devoid of distinctive markings. Such “sterile” cybershells are the ideal expendable asset. When the mission is over or the system is likely to be captured the controller simply severs the radio connection and activates thermite destruction charges.

Covert or clandestine operations often take place in populated areas where combat cybershells would be conspicuous. Some missions are better conducted by human/ parahuman/ bioroid operatives. The use of such operatives may take several forms.

Most intelligence agencies prefer to use “local assets” for their activities. The majority of these lack military training and/or cannot be relied on for covert military operations.  One solution is to use proxies such as mercenaries, criminals or dissident groups. The competence and reliability of such units is variable and many will have their own agendas. Consequently some intelligence or espionage agencies have formed and trained units for covert and clandestine military operations.  Such teams are known by a variety of often euphemistic terms. For simplicity I will call them Covert Action Teams and their members Covert Military Operatives (CMOs).

In some respects this trend can be seen as a full circle. Many 20th century Special Forces originated from the wartime activities of the British SOE. The American equivalent of the SOE, the OSS evolved into the CIA. The inspiration for the SOE was itself taken from the 1920s IRA.

Covert Action Teams vary considerably but some generalizations can be made.

CMOs that operate on their own are rare. CMOs are generally fielded as an established team of between three and nine members. Like similar sized formations in more conventional military forces the members of a team tend to be tight-knit and familiar to each other. For security purposes such teams are effectively “cells” and only have no contact with other agents unless necessary.

In many services the members of a team are selected for similar apparent ethnicity and language skills. For example, a team might all appear to be of latin ancestry and speak fluent Spanish. Such a team would often be deployed in South America. A team of orientals who spoke Mandarin would be likely to see missions in Asia or on Mars. For nations with a relatively homogenous population forming teams that do not look out of place can be a problem. Chinese intelligence has very few Caucasian operatives it can draw upon. To create non-asian covert teams it must rely upon recruited foreigners, cosmetic surgery or specially created bioroids.

CMOs often operate at close ranges. Operations in locations where the carrying of weapons is restricted are also likely. CMOs are well versed in the use of improvised weapons and know that any workshop, kitchen or hardware store can provide them with implements to club, cut and stab. Many items of clothing can serve as effective garottes. CMOs are also well trained in unarmed combat techniques and may have bio-mods to assist in this.

More advanced weapons can be produced by minifac, delivered by stealth glide bomb, captured or stolen.

It is in a CMO’s interest to blend in and not seem conspicuous. Visible bio-mods will be in tune with those common in the area of operations. A CMO in a polar area or on Mars may have fur just like many of the locals. In actuality a CMO may have many less obvious but more drastic biomodifications. Some of these will be combat or survival orientated or be designed to assist the user’s mission in other ways. An example of the latter is the “thief light”, a switchable patch of bioluminescent skin with a light output similar to a candle.

Many CMOs cultivate a distinctly unmilitary appearance. Some teams appear to be family groups, troupes of entertainers or various other inventive covers. At least one team has the cover of a fashion photographer and his models. The “children” in a family may in fact be highly capable combat bioroids.