Variable Sword

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Top:Star Frontiersman main page | Up: Star Frontiersman Issue 14 main index | Up: Equipment main index

by Chris Harper

Variable Sword

Type: Powered melee weapon
Cost: 800 Cr (varies illegal on most worlds)
Weight: 0.4 kg
Damage: 6d10, 6d10 +1d10 per target in 10 meter wide area attack
Structural Damage: 30
Ammo: 20 SEU power clip
Defense: Inertia
Range: 2-30 meters
Skill: Melee Weapons

Authors Note:

From: Ringworld 1970, Author Larry Niven
"I have a variable-sword," said Speaker-to-Animals. "I urge calm." The kzin stood against a curved wall. In one clawed fist he held something like an oversized jump rope handle. Ten feet from the handle, held expertly at the level of the kzin's eyes, was a small, glowing red ball. The wire which joined ball to handle was too thin to be visible, but Louis didn't doubt it was there. Protected and made rigid by a Slaver stasis field, the wire would cut through most materials including the back of Louis's crash couch.

In Star Frontiers Digitally Remastered optional rules Bill Logan suggested the mono- katana. He cited that many sci-fi books used weapons that utilize a monowire. (A wire that is as thin as one molecule and very strong.) It reminded me of the variable sword from Larry Niven’s Ringworld. The only sword mentioned in the book. I was instantly intrigued by this insidious weapon. I have obtained permission by Larry Niven to adapt the Variable Sword for use in Star Frontiers.



The most lethal melee weapon devised. Variable swords are very rare and very illegal on most worlds. No one is sure who invented them. They are constructed secretly by private weapon makers.

Variable swords are easy to conceal, a match for all types of armor. The blade is nearly invisible. These qualities made the swords sought after by criminals and assassins. They are also inherently dangerous to their users. Many Frontier worlds have outlawed them.

Some say they were first fabricated for use in zero- g ship yards to cut apart derelict ships. Some claim that Variable Swords were improvised weapons used during the Second Sathar War. Both theories maybe correct.

There are many designs off the basic principle. The swords are made by many different designers in secret shops, and then sold on the black market.


Variable swords use a mono-wire kept rigid by an inertia screen. The molecule thin mono-wire is capable of cutting through most any material with the slightest tug, leaving a clean polished surface. The weightless blade can be extended to an unusually long range for a melee weapon.

The Variable sword is basically a cylinder held in one hand. A standard 20 SEU power clip is inserted into the bottom of the cylinder. There are two buttons. One is to rapidly extend the mono-wire and inertia screen. One is to retract it. At the end of the wire is a glowing red ball. This gives the wielder a point of reference and also gives the inertia screen resistance to extend and retract the wire.

When extended, the mono-wire is nearly invisible. Its location is only betrayed by the infrequent shimmer of the inertia screen. The screen is only slightly larger than the wire so it is also difficult to discern. The wire can quickly be extended up to 30 meters. Much like the sonic sword the blade is nearly weightless and can be swung as fast as the wielder can muster. Due to the low resistance when cutting Variable swords can be used to sweep through multiple targets.

The disadvantage of the Variable Swords is that it can only by used to cut, not to stab or slash. (Useless if trapped in a room.) The most troubling characteristic of the variable sword is the potential for the inertia screen to collapse, leaving the bare mono-wire to snake around and threaten anyone within its reach.

Game Play

Players receive a +15 to hit like the sonic sword. The sword does 6d10 damage to a single opponent or 6d10 plus 1d10 for each target within a 10 meter wide area. (Similar to a burst from an automatic rifle.)

All opponents being attacked by the variable sword, up to its 30 meter range that attempt to use a rifle take a -30% per SF melee rules.

Each hit uses 2SEU of the 20 SEU clip. If the SEU clip is depleted while the sword is in use, the inertia screen will collapse. Any beings within range and within 360 degrees have a 20% chance of taking 2d10 damage as the mono-wire recoils.

Optional Damage Rule

If a single target takes 30 points of damage in one turn a random limb has been severed.

d10 Location
1-2 Chest
3 Abdomen
4 Right arm
5 Right hand
6 Left arm
7 Left hand
8 Right leg
9 Left leg
0 Head
* A roll of 1-3 typically spells a gruesome end to the


Optional Ablative Damage rules (Star_Frontiersman_Issue_8) Marking all location boxes in a single turn will result in the location becoming severed. Excess damage continues to a randomly rolled hit location.

For example: Gorb the dralasite strikes Zeek‘s left arm. Gorb rolls 6d10 damage. He rolls 5 out of six above the number 5; therefore, Zeek takes 5 hits to his left arm. Oops he only has 4 boxes left, His arm is severed. There is one hit left, Gorb rolls 1d10 for a random hit location. He rolls a 2, so Zeek takes the remaining hit to his chest.

Larry Niven is the author of Ringworld, the co-author of The Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer, the editor of the Man-Kzin War series, and has written or co-authored over 50 books. He is a five-time winner of the Hugo Award, along with a Nebula and numerous others.