How much does it take for a 5th-ranked character to defeat a 2nd ranked character at something?

I have two characters who are going to be fighting a duel. One of them is 5th place of 6 in warfare and one of them is 2nd place. The 5th-place character has set up these advantages in his favour:

  • He is most specialized in one-on-one swordfighting, while the other is most specialized in battlefield tactics and has only ever used a sword due to the cultural inclinations of Lord Oberon/Castle Amber, preferring firearms when personal combat is unavoidable and a spear when firearms fail.
  • He has spent about a year of accelerated time studying the other's spear fighting style, body language, etc.
  • He has secured the blessing of a young, inexperienced, non-Amberite fate mage previously slighted by the other on the world where the fight will take place, and the blessing will be active during the fight.
  • The other character believes that the 5th-ranked character does not know he is coming, but this is not the case.
  • He carries an artifact sword with the Deadly Damage quality while the other character has a regular steel sword made by a master smith (though he will drop back to a sword of Double Damage quality if/when the first one breaks).
  • He is ranked 3rd for Endurance, while the other character has baseline Amberite Endurance.
  • He is an advanced shape-shifter and has kept his shape-shifting abilities secret so far. His player has confided that he expects to be forced into revealing them in this fight, and that he is willing to do so if necessary. He intends to Shapeshift Blood to try to knock his opponent off-balance before the final blow is landed, and to impale the other character while accepting a mortal blow himself (which he can heal).
  • He will have been training with a disguised mid-ranked agent of Benedict for about two weeks by the time of the fight.
  • The other character expects to waltz through the combat completely untouchable and wipe the floor with the 'lesser being'.

As you can probably tell from the preparations, the 5th-ranked character believes his opponent to be a powerful force and is trying to find some way to sway the battle in his favour. The only elements against him (apart from the rank difference) are:

  • The other character is probably slightly more familiar with the area the fight is taking place in than he is.
  • He has 1 point of Bad Stuff. The other character has 2 points of Good Stuff.

Of neutral, unknown, or balanced relevance is:

  • The people whose survival he is fighting for will be bystanders at the duel, as will a retinue of the other character's loyal minions.

Obviously there are some massive positive modifiers here on the side of the lower ranked character. Amber, however, is a game with huge power gaps between ranks. I would call the rank 2 character vastly superior in a straight fight and the 5th-rank character would ordinarily be 'dead' in three hits (there is that shapeshifting thing, so a fourth hit might be needed to move the character from 'dead' to dead). I'm never very sure how much modifier is enough to overcome a rank discrepancy.

There's also the matter of good/bad stuff. There's a 3 point stuff difference between the combatants here, but I'm not sure it should come up given the luck blessing on the person with bad stuff and the player's extensive efforts to remove all luck from the situation.

And then there is the matter of Shapeshifting. The player only wants to reveal the secret if it is absolutely necessary. Should he be able to win without it?

Basically I have no idea what it looks like for an attribute difference this large to be overcome. How should I handle this?


2 Answers 2


Short answer: The rules don't provide definitive answer. (I can't find one, at least.)

In this kind of situation I would use detailed combat, as there is much at stake and the situation is complicated.

In detailed combat the rules answer a specific question. First, you need to know the relative warfare of the fighters (more on this later) and how aggressively they fight. See the section on judging combat.

Difference in warfare adjusted by circumstances

The guideline I use when running Amber is that circumstances are worth one rank if, given two otherwise equally matched characters, the circumstances would be enough to determine the winner. If you have established a different standard in play earlier, go with that.

I would say that weapon specialisation against focus on tactics is worth one rank. A clear surprise would momentarily give a rank of benefit. Studying how the other fights and sparring with an agent of Benedict might together be worth one rank, though this is not a clear call.

The hubris of the opponent is accounted for in the rules - this is the aggressiveness of their play.

I would allow the fate mage to counteract 1 point of bad stuff for the combat only.

Deadly damage weapon (or double damage weapon) is accounted for in the rules - any wound caused by the Deadly weapon is severe. (I would say that being severely wounded is worth one rank of warfare).

If the fight is stalling, then endurance starts affecting the play. If the lower endurance character will do nothing despite warnings ("Your arms are getting tired and stabs are getting slower. Do you continue fighting as you are now?"), then I'd say that getting tired is worth one rank of warfare, or another after sufficient time, and so on. But this only if nothing is happening otherwise.

For the shapeshifting, that must be revealed in play at the right moment. I am not comfortable making a judgment call outside specific play situation or more detailed hypothetical scenario. Both characters inflicting a mortal wound is handled by the combat rules - that is clear reckless action. See the detailed combat rules.


I would say that the situation is as follows: Rank 3 (5 base, improved by 2 by modifiers) vs rank 2, with the following handled in play as the happen: Deadly weapon, possible surprise, possible underestimation of opponent, shapeshifting, endurance, familiarity with the location, good stuff. That is, if something is in doubt, luck would favour the character with good stuff.

I'd bet on the lower ranked character. Willingness to take wounds and Deadly damage weapon are a serious combination.


You give us the ranks but not the values between the 5th ranked and 2nd ranks. This should influence the outcome as well.

Say the range is less than 10 points: Your 5th ranked will own the 2nd rank. Say the range is more than 100 points: Your 2nd ranked will win the fight as they are just too good. It might not be an easy fight and they might get hurt but they will still win it: tehy are just that good. Things get more muddled if the range is in the tens but it should still give you a good indication.

However, how I would run it is by asking what the players want to achieve by this duel. No one in Amber should outright kill other players, even in books it is very very rare that one gets killed. Being captured, wounded, out of commission, or just plain being beaten is generally preferred. Remember: your enemy of yesterday might be your ally of tomorrow.

Can you (GM) inject something into the mix? A common enemy might get wind of the duel and attack just at the point the two characters are about to deal each other mortal wounds. Or new information comes to light meaning that the hatred between the two characters was engineered.

So, play it out! Let the players run with it as see if they can come up with something to make that encounter memorable. Let them decide what is happening in the fight and what it's penultimate outcome is. The latter clearly assumes you have mature players interested in the story...

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that, by the book, only the ranks matter. I might not remember this correctly, though. Where does the book mention the points being important? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Feb 3, 2015 at 9:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thanuir: It's been a long time since I played Amber but I seem to remember that the numbers do mean something as well... Most of the NPCs have numbers not ranks. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2015 at 9:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ The NPCs can't have precomputed ranks, since the ranks depend on the player characters and on which NPCs are in use. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Feb 3, 2015 at 9:47

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