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Someone has developed a device that is capable of altering matter up to 100 meters away, only using thoughts. This is very powerful since someone with this device would be capable to, for example, turn a bullet into something harmless (like polystyrene or just air for example). He could also turn cloth into kevlar or something else to gain armor at will. I am more interested in the altering weapons and armor aspect of this. Creating weapons out of thin air would be cool, but it does not interest me since potential users are already armed.

When I talk about altering matter, I'm talking about changing state, changing molecules or even atomic/nuclear reactions (changing an element into another).

In my story, the person possessing this device is very honor-bound and does not alter matter against worthy opponents. However, if a person with no limits would get his hands on this device, he would be very powerful, too powerful.

I was thinking about linking the device to its original owner so that nobody can abuse it, but I'm looking for more limitations.

I am not looking for a reality check on the technology.

Note about reflexes:

The user can focus on changing a projectile before it has entered the 100m range of the device, neutralizing the projectile as soon as it gets in range. The user is still vulnerable to surprise attacks however.

Good limitations found so far:

  • Using this requires a lot of focus, which is really tiring on the long run. Lack of focus create inconsistent/undesirable results.
  • To focus enough to be able to use this device requires preparation, either through mastering meditation/be able to focus on one thing only, or through neural enhancement (other auxiliary devices)
  • To convert matter, energy has to be used and/or stored somewhere, requiring a more complex system and dangers/instability occurring at high level of energy. Energy might affect the health of the user if not supported by auxiliary devices.
  • Possible stability issues in the reaction if the user does not focus enough, potentially creating a big explosion and most likely kill the user and everything around.
  • Overheating issue due to some energy being lost as heat
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  • $\begingroup$ I was just about to ask what the device's exact range is, so good job with the preemptive edit. Another question: is the effect instantaneous? It's no good being able to turn a bullet into polystyrene if the bullet has already hit you by the time that happens. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jul 2 '18 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ Not technically instantaneous, but it would only take a split second. It would vary depending on the size of the object . For a bullet, because of its ridiculously low volume, I would say it's almost instantaneous. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 2 '18 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ I think you would benefit from focusing on one example. Since I have no idea how someone doing anything with a bullet being fired from 100m away makes sense to you, perhaps focus on the armor part. Once you know how to impose reasonable restrictions for one example, you should be able to do it for any example. If you are unable to solve some other example, perhaps ask a 2nd question then. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jul 2 '18 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, I am not looking for a reality check. As for restrictions, all aspects of combat interest me, at least the basic ones like altering weapons and armour. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 2 '18 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Hawker65 I don't think you get my point. I'm not saying that this SE is for specific questions. I'm saying that if you focus your question, you will get better answers for that one particular problem. This would allow people to be more creative and not less. If people have to solve like 10 issues at once, they have to come up with very broad approaches. I believe if you want more creativity, you have to narrow the scope. A better question = better answers. As I said, it should be easy to apply the same logic to similar problems then, so you don't really lose much by being specific $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jul 2 '18 at 13:49
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Make it so that the user remains... well... human

Your device has been developped by what seems to be an human. Alright. With this device, can an human transform a bullet into air just after it was fired ? I doubt it. His reflex remains slow. Too slow to actually be able to use the device effectively with his thoughts.

You think it remains overpowered ?

Limits the possibilities of the device

Let's look for another limitation: matter. Is your device omnipotent about the different transformations it can do ? Can you transform gold into silver, but not silver into gold ? You may add impossible transformation to limit the device such as making it impossible to transform anything past uranium in the periodic table.

Is it not enough ?

Make it hardly possible to master everything about the device

Does the user need a learning phase to use the device ? If you think of a computer: it does a lot of things, but when I suddenly need to use one of its feature that I did not know before, it could take me ages to learn it. Your device could be able to alter matter, but perhaps your user will only be able to make the basic transformations and would need further time to learn the more complex transformations. Perhaps it would need a lifetime of experience to make harder transformations, like a bullet into a nuclear bomb.

I'm not finished.

Limit the device by its owner knowledge

If the user does not know the basic characteristics of an element, he may not use it. That way, he can not transform a nuclear bomb into something else without KNOWING how the nuclear is made and how it works.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the mastering aspect. As for turning a bullet in a nuke, I would say it is not practically possible. Because a nuke is much more complex than a bullet, this would require a lot of time. I have already limited the spawning of complex objects. It is much simpler to break a complex object than to create one. I thought about requiring to be good at meditating/focussing your mind on something to use this device. That way, a random person would not be able to use it properly or consistently and, even if one could focus, it would be very tiring if done for a long time. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 2 '18 at 13:50
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My though is to rely on conserving the energy.
First you need to have "some" energy to put into cotton to turn it Kevlar-like.
Then you need to store some energy you've taken out of lead to turn it into plastic.

Then, naturally, you think "so I can just switch energy from one place (bullet) into another (cloth)". And this is the key. You need not only device but also a container for energy.
And the container need to have "some" energy inside (for input use) but be capable of storing extra (when only siphoning from something). With that you also need:

  • knowledge that such container exist and is crucial for device use
  • when container don't need to be used because you just move energy from one place to another.

If you use device without container you can be faced with two outcomes:
When siphoning energy the device is overcharged and it change it own matter. So it end up as lump of coal (because it have relatively low atom number, it's cheap and serve as a punishment [you wanted gold you get coal])
When using to infuse something with energy device draw energy from the owner. Slowly killing him by speeding up his ageing process. So for example when he want to change his clothes into armour he die from old age and turn into dust before anything hit him. The device then collapse into itself with a little "PLOP!"

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this concept since the original owner and creator of the device is the head of a big medical corporation doing all kinds of secret science and engineering to develop such powerful devices. The original owner would be equipped to counter these drawbacks but a potential stealer could get killed by the device because he was not sufficiently equipped/prepared. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 2 '18 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ If you want an inspiration about limits of this weapon, just look up the Marvel supervillain CHEMISTRO: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemistro $\endgroup$ – Valerio Pastore Jul 2 '18 at 12:14
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Conservation of energy is the ultimate limiter.

You cannot create or destroy energy, you have to transfer it. Creating matter requires insane amounts of energy, unless you can instead transfer or convert matter instead. However, conversion requires or releases energy, too, unless you maintain the same mass. Turning a bullet into cotton would result in a fluffy ball bigger than the bullet, because cotton is less dense. Turning air into a gun requires more energy than a nuclear reactor can provide in any sensible time span, unless you use a similar mass of air from around you - which might result in you asphyxiating.
You'll need to carry matter, for example lead, with you, convert it into energy inside of the container you carry, channel the energy towards where you want it and recreate the matter there. Since it's unlikely that you'll achieve 100% efficiency, you'll lose matter and release a lot of energy every time you do it. If you are careless and lose focus in the middle of the energy transfer, you go boom, because the energy is suddenly released. We're talking about an explosion in the range of a 20 kiloton nuke, killing everyone in a 1.5km radius and severely injuring everyone in a 3km radius - the wielder standing right next to the epicenter, which probably isn't fun.
Destroying an object requires turning it into energy, moving the energy into your container and turning it into new matter - with the same risk of a sudden, nuclear explosion.

That means that you are primarily limited by the weight you can carry around and the mass in the environment around you.

Since you don't have perfect energy conversion, each time you use your power you also release some energy, maybe ten kilojoule per kg of matter converted, as heat, which is enough to heat up a cubic meter or air by about 10 degrees Celsius. The more you use it, the hotter it gets.
If you use it outdoors in a windy area, no problem, the air carries the heat away. If you use it inside a building the heat quickly becomes deadly, so you have to be careful with where and how you use it.

That means your secondary limit is the heat you can pump into the environment without dying.

If a hostile person acquired the device, you can throw bullets at him continuously and eventually he'll overheat, especially if you manage to corner him in an enclosed space where the heat doesn't dissipate, or you lure him into outer space where he doesn't have enough matter to convert into something useful and where heat dissipates extremely slowly.

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  • $\begingroup$ This device will not be used to create objects, especially complex ones like weapons, out of thin air. It's more about breaking down what someone throws at you, making someone's armour/weapon less tough. It is mainly used for "small alterations". I like the idea of the unwary user cooking alive because of his ignorance. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 10 '18 at 9:35
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Some suggestions could also be

  • Its heavy
  • Its bulky (If its hard to move it limits the weapon since it only works in a certain area)
  • It needs a large amount of energy to power it
  • You need to really concentrate, so things like high pitch noises could distract you
  • You need to have a very indepth understanding of what you are manipulating. e.g. If you want to turn iron into gold, you need to know and visualize the atoms changing so it is very difficult to use effectively
  • It uses a specific psionic frequency to alter matter and there are some materials that reflect/block signals in this frequency hence providing protection from it. (Similar to magnetos helmet stopping professor X from getting into his mind)
  • Its fragile so a user has to handle it with care and protect it from a lot of things
  • Limited Time usuage. The device overheats, or requires frequent recharging/battery changes or the user requires breaks because its overloading their mind. Something that limits the amount of time.
  • Its limited to things that don't change frequently. By this I means something like an explosion where molecules are undergoing a reaction. The user can't stop it because they can't interact with individual molecules because they are reacting and changing too fast. They could stop it before e.g. before the match ignites the gunpowder, but not during the reaction.

It doesn't actually sound to overpowered to me because its limited to 100m. You could just play a high pitch noise to cause the user to lose focus and shoot them. Even just a normal gun is going to be very difficult to handle at 100m. If a bullet is travelling at 300 m/s and it takes you roughly 0.25 seconds notice the bullet being shot, you have roughly 0.05 seconds to focus on the bullet and change it which sounds pretty impossible to me. Modern rifle bullets travel closer to 1000m/s so your dead before you even noticed the bullet being shot at you. Now throw in multiple bullets and your going to have a very difficult time protecting yourself.

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  • $\begingroup$ As I stated in an edit, the user can "pre-emptively" focus to eliminate any bullet (or projectile in general) immediately once they enter the radius. The user has to know what is being shot at him though. If he focusses on stopping incoming bullets, he will not stop a crossbow bolt for example. This devices is very powerful if the user has good awareness, but is almost useless if you are taken by surprise. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 10 '18 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Hawker65 Does that apply to bullets of different calibres or different types of bullets e.g. tracer round, or a hollow point or normal bullet? Or the general thought bullets? or the users understanding of a bullet? If he thought projectiles would that mean all projectiles would be stopped? If he wanted to convert all kinematic energy into thermal energy would he nothing be able to move? How general of a thought can the user apply with this device? $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jul 11 '18 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ Well, it's mostly a matter of composition. A typical FMJ round, regardless of the caliber, has more or less the same composition and the size difference is negligible. For example, the user can expect copper and lead from an FMJ bullet with the copper encasing most of the lead so, regardless of the size of the bullet, every bullet following theses characteristics will be affected. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 11 '18 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ Also, this device does not affect kinetic energy directly. If a bullet is travelling at 990 m/s, you could turn it into air or cotton or polystyrene, and the drag would naturally greatly reduce its velocity or, at least, it would be much less lethal on impact. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 11 '18 at 8:04
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Require more devices/beams/money/energy/weight/lack-of-movement for the transformation of different types of object. So while a military contractor might focus on turning steel or titanium into rabbit fluff (narrow focus for his particular use) so he can mount it on a rifle, the rich guy can afford to turn lots of different stuff into other stuff, but only near his skyscraper due to the power, money and weight requirements.

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Here is my Psychic Mimes concept, from this question. Limits of telekinesis. It did not get enough love there so here it comes again. Another related answer here: Telekinesis in Science Fiction

Psychic mimes

The telekinetic moves things via astral projection. He projects his body and then at that site, his body can do whatever his body can do. Choke Vader style - yes. Trip - yes. Surprise wedgie - oh yes. Super high speed nails - no. Lift 100 kg - maybe if he worked out a lot. 600 kg - no. Move a hammer through the air - yes, as fast as he can run carrying the hammer or as fast as he can throw the hammer. If he does the running option he can whack things when the hammer gets there. Throwing he will have to pick it up again.

There should be a range: you cannot affect things you cannot see. If you can Vader choke from the next county that is not fair. But if you could only choke within visual range you are a sniper, and your targets have a chance to stumble out of sight or maybe determine where you are and come kick you.

You could just have your telekinetic massage his temples while at work, Xavier style. Better though is if his body actually has to do what his astral projection is doing. Because I love mimes and there are not enough psychic mimes.

This gives a clear limit to what the TK can do. Still an awesome superpower but now your TK can't kill a herd of ninjas with a flare of the nostrils. A telekinetic who could use a sword could fight you from 20 feet away and would be very hard to beat one on one.

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  • $\begingroup$ The power this device is isn't telekinesis, but a weak telekinesis can be somewhat achieved indirectly with this device. The creator of this device has already worked on an actual telekinesis device with power amplification (superior telekinetic strength like 3 times the strength of a human), but he will not use it himself (one of his lieutenant will use it with a flail) $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Jul 2 '18 at 13:43
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Link its effectiveness to user's visual capacity, as eyes are brain parts. Your standard issue eye patch villain would find it near useless (for improvised defense against incoming projectile) for lack of depth perception (range finding), yet they could use it to alter their immediate environment providing shielding. A user's understanding of physics, matter and the like, should almost certainly be the most limiting factor. This makes a physics savvy antagonist a veritable must.

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You could give people natural disincentives or prerequisites for using the device. For example, it causes its user pain, or some kind of computational basis for the transformation, which might take time/effort to do, must happen to give people guidance on the device.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hello, Pat Gunn, and welcome to Worldbuilding! Please take our tour and visit the help center to learn more about the way the site works. Have a nice day! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Jul 10 '18 at 21:34

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