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An individual in my world has low-level psionic alchemy. They can (currently) determine the chemical composition of an object, and more importantly, to change it. Our character can take a medium amount of a uniform substance and transform it into another with similar properties, i.e. gold to platinum, stone to sand, water to ethanol.

Now, this character is likely to make the most use of his power as he can, and the powers that be will want to anticipate and stop him. What could this character pull off, and how could it be countered?

Edit: Our character is a good guy, but is a little self-serving and may not always act with total rationality and forethought. At most, he could affect around 30 pounds of a substance, and yes, it must be of the same state of matter.

Edit: The materials have to share observable physical properties. Gold to platinum is okay despite being far apart on the periodic table, they are both shiny, heavy metals. Sulfur and Chlorine are only one proton apart, but have very different properties, so they could not be transformed into each other.

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    $\begingroup$ What might this character be trying to accomplish? IE what are his goals and motivations? $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ A few more questions: How much is a medium amount of the substance? Size of a loaf of bread? Size of a human? Of a horse? And it seems like the changes have to be of the same state (solid, liquid, gas), or of the same approximate material but different states (stone to sand). Is this correct? $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ What @NexTerren said: what is this guy's motivations and drive? And "the powers", what is their motivation and drive? Right now your questions suffers from "A Concept In Search Of A Story"-Syndrome. Your question opens up so many possibilities that it is impossible to answer without knowing these things. So give us some story hooks here... what do people in your fictional world want? And what kind of story do you want to tell in this world? $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ You should define these powers some more. Are any changes allowed that make the two materials seem similar outwardly? Or are they limited by how similar the product and the origin are in chemical terms? the former would allow for transformations like iron -> steel, silver -> platinum or maybe even iron -> uranium if the fact that both are metals is enough to make them similar. The latter would allow for gold -> platinum (-1 proton and electron), alumin(i)um -> silicon (+1 proton and electron) and magnesium -> Neon (-2 each) $\endgroup$
    – Annonymus
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ How quickly does this ability act? Would he need to preform an hour long ritual to turn a bronze coin to a gold one, or could he do it instantly and on a whim? If he saw an arrow flying his way, could he turn a leather tunic to iron before it hit? $\endgroup$
    – UIDAlexD
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:48

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I've brainstormed some options. Some might not apply based on a rule or another that you forgot to include (which is fine) about how this power works, but hopefully you'll find some good points for your setting.

Extreme wealth

Any metal into gold. He can effectively make massive profits until he renders all metals of the same value, per lb. As long as it's shiney, solid, and metal he can make gold. When he stops there it seems he could likely turned cut glass into gemstones and likewise do this until he bottoms out the market. Water? To wine. That market's destroyed as well.

Easy entrance anywhere

If he can turn stone into stand, I imagine he can turn wood into sawdust and metal into metal filings. Any physical barrier isn't a barrier any longer. He can be subtle and just affect the locking mechanism on a door, or just be overt and make a hole in the door (or destroy the hinges), the choice is his.

He'll never go hungry

Mud to porridge is the obvious one. I'm sure you could think of other ways.

Armor and weapons need not apply

Oh, you were wearing that steel plate? It's tin now. Or steel filings, the choice is his. For that matter he can do it to enemy weapons as well. Basically he's shut down anyone who can't take him on with natural weapons (stingers, claws, fists, teeth) or magic. Any tools are gone.

Remove magic

I don't know about the details of your setting, but a lot of magical items int traditional RPG inspired fantasy depend on certain substances. Holy water, for example. If he makes the liquid no longer water, and then back again he could potentially scrub it of magic. This might be useful to him for cursed items.

Weaponize

Borrowing from the now deleted post (I wish I could give credit but I can't see who posted it) he can transform air into something non-breathable, even toxic. Water into acid or a strong base. A handful of dust into some extremely flammable powder.

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Depending on the volume of conversion, if he seeks money, from your logic, he should be able to convert glass to diamond. If you allow it, carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide could help him to kill masses. Additionally, randomly shifting the elements making up a person, he can kill or introduce pain. Water to alcohol is also interesting, if he wants to make people happy, he could conjure alcohol out of water. He could convert air to hydrogen and oxygen, quickly creating an explosion. What about converting sugar/salt to Potassium cyanide?

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    $\begingroup$ "... he could conjure alcohol out of water in their blood stream." $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, and same can be done for cyanide. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 14:49

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