There are a few rules that apply to all forms of combat. For everything else, there's Mastercard.

Everything is resisted by something.

Fundamentally, every form of attack is resisted by one of the Attributes. There is no such thing as an automatic effect, although there is certainly still overwhelming force. Additionally, some forms of attack can be directly resisted by Powers.
Resistance can work in degrees, affecting the quality of an attack; or it can defeat an attack entirely.

If your target is aware, they get a chance to do something.

Activating Trump Traps and throwing Power Words still leaves your opponent a split-second to respond. Even opponents who are bound and gagged may be able to perform strictly mental actions.
However, just because your target gets a chance to respond doesn't mean they can do anything useful.

Initiative: Declaring and Resolving Actions

Informal Initiative

In small groups the process of declaring and resolving actions is usually pretty fast and loose. A player decides they want their character to do something, the other players have a chance to respond, everyone responds to those actions, and things progress in that fashion until the scene reaches a natural conclusion. Any questions of who has a chance to respond to what are resolved by a quick glance at the Warfare table. With larger groups things become more formal so that the GM can keep better track of what's going on and so that every player is guaranteed a fair chance to act. Everything that follows in this section describes the formal combat rules; these can also be applied to smaller groups if the GM is so inclined.

Formal Initiative

Combat is conducted in rounds. Each round is only a few in-game seconds, representing enough time to take a few steps forward and stab someone. Each round is broken into a declaration phase and a resolution phase.
The declaration phase is when every player gets to describe what their character will be doing that round. Declaration starts with the lowest Warfare rank and proceeds up the ladder; that way if you have a higher Warfare you have a better idea of what everyone else is doing and can respond appropriately. This simulates the inherent tactical superiority of Warfare.
In a given round a player can take one or two actions that a person could conceivably do in a few seconds. If the GM thinks you're trying to do too much in one round, she will tell you so and allow you to adjust your action if desired. Generally simple physical actions are the easiest to combine with other things; it's entirely possible for an Amberite to run and make a Trump call. However, Power uses can almost never be combined in the same round. If you do take two actions in the same round, each action will suffer from your split attentions: in the above example you would both be running slower than your normal speed and have more difficulty making the call.

Secrets

If your action is secret, you can privately inform the GM of what you intend to do. The GM will then inform the group of what they would notice you doing-- usually this is an accurate but more generalized version of your action. Players who declare later can privately ask the GM more specific questions about the secret action, and the answers they receive will be dependent on their stats compared to the secret actor.
Example: If Terry is casting a binding spell on Florence, the GM would likely announce it to the group as "Terry is casting a spell." Kristin has a higher Warfare than Terry, so on her turn to declare she asks the GM privately what kind of spell it is. He consults her character sheet: she has no magical talent but a significantly higher Warfare. He decides to tell her that she doesn't know what kind of spell it is, but she can tell that it seems to be directed at Florence.
Feinting functions in essentially the same way. The GM announces what you are pretending to do to the group, but it's obvious to the other players that you have something up your sleeve because you were whispering to the GM and the remaining declarers have higher Warfare than you. Subsequent players can privately ask the GM if they notice anything unusual about the action; depending on their Warfare rank relative to yours, they will get proportionately useful answers.
Shadow Manipulation is always declared in secret, knowledge of Pattern or Logrus is required to understand what exactly the Initiate/Master is doing. The same goes for changing the contents of your Personal Shadow.

The Three Modes

Warfare Combat

First, let's be clear on what Warfare combat is. If it involves aiming, it's Warfare combat-- this includes swordplay, throwing grenades, kicking a guy in the face, directing a catapult, and hitting someone with your car. If it involves wielding resources in a tactical or strategic way, it's Warfare combat-- this includes leading armies, corporate takeovers, playing checkers, rock-paper-scissors, and laying traps.
Warfare is by far the most context-dependent of all the combat types. The environment matters. Tactics matter. Equipment matters. Stance matters. Perception matters. There are more ways to tilt a Warfare combat one way or another than any other form of combat. As such, simply having a higher Warfare does not necessarily mean that you will score a meaningful victory in a given Warfare exchange-- the opponent can frequently find some way to cheat, deflect, or defer.
Warfare rank determines how effectively you strike your opponent. If your Warfare is vastly inferior you might miss your opponent entirely, while a single strike from a sufficiently superior Warfare can kill an opponent outright. However, most Warfare combats take time and are matters of degree-- if the parties involved have at least Amber-rank Warfare, the odds of an instantaneous resolution are essentially nil.
Here are a few tricks to remember for Warfare combat:
  • The Offense/Defense Tradeoff: In the book there are basically three stances: offensive, defensive, and opportunistic. When you're fighting, the GMs assume that you're being opportunistic-- that is, that you're trying to find a way to hurt the other guy without getting hurt too badly yourself. However, you can declare other stances. Offensive means that you're more aggressive and therefore apt to hurt your opponent more severely-- while at the same time taking a few more hits yourself. Defensive means that you won't be doing any damage to your opponent at all, but that they will also find it much more difficult to harm you. Use of stances can resolve close Warfare contests much quicker than otherwise and provide the necessary advantage to stay in more disparate contests.
  • Brute Squad: A good Warfare defense can usually still be overcome by a sufficient mass of lower ranks. This applies to defense by rank, by armor, and by environmental condition-- if you throw enough people at a target, sooner or later the target will usually go down. How well this tactic works is proportional to the skill of the individual mob members; the greater the difference between their Warfare and the target's, the more of them are required to overcome the target's defenses. However, this approach is limited by space-- only so many people can be set up to stab one man at a time, and the number of people you can apply may simply not be enough to harm the target.
  • The Biggest Weapons: Armies and personal shadows with control of contents can be wielded as weapons, and the effectiveness of their application is determined by your Warfare rank.
  • Brawling: Strength can be used in place of Warfare for some contests if it's stylistically appropriate, although this always grants Advantage to the person using Warfare.

Strength Combat

To be clear once again on our terms, Strength combat is grappling. It does not occur at range, it is not two guys kicking and punching each other yelling "Hi-yaa!," and there is no real way to miss or dodge. Strength combat is what happens when you get your hands on the other guy and don't let go. Strength combat can do damage by pulverizing, crushing, or breaking the opponent; but it can also be used to cause pain, to immobilize, or to render a foe unconscious.
Unlike Warfare, almost nothing but the Attribute counts in Strength combat. Fancy tactics don't really help you stop someone from ripping your head off, and even knights in armor can still be crushed or have their arms broken. The landscape you're wrestling on doesn't really affect the outcome of the contest. Pretty much when you get your hands on the other guy, all that matters is Strength.
Strength combat is often disregarded because it doesn't do enough damage, but damage isn't really the point of Strength combat. The point of Strength combat is rendering your opponent totally helpless; what you do after that is up to you.
Some points of consideration for Strength combat:
  • Warfare in Strength Combat: Warfare applies only indirectly to Strength contests; there is no equivalent to Brawling. Making Warfare strikes on someone while grappling is only effective if their Strength is close to or less than yours-- unless you leave yourself vulnerable to accomplish them. And you can't use Warfare to escape without breaking the other person's grip first via Strength.
  • Tentacles and Other Extrusions: "Does not occur at range" really means "does not occur beyond your reach." There are a number of ways for Amberites to extend their reach dramatically, but as long as their body still touches the other person, they can apply their Strength. Logrus tendrils are a special case; they operate with a virtual Strength equal to their summoner's Logrus rank.

Psyche Combat

The direct battle of wills is the third and final combat mode in Amber. In Psychic combat the consequences range far further than mere bodily harm; a victorious opponent can access your memories, implant ideas in your head, or manipulate your body like a puppet. Initiating Psychic combat requires a Psychic link between the combatants: almost every power has a way to accomplish this, but direct skin-to-skin touch is enough, as is close eye contact or certain bizarre configurations of Shadow. If one of these conditions is not continuously met, Psychic combat cannot take place.
The most common gambit in any Psychic exchange is for one participant to lock down their opponent's body, restricting them from getting away. It's the mental equivalent to pinning your opponent in Strength combat, and as in Strength combat maintaining such a lock requires a certain amount of concentration. Foregoing the body-lock is entirely possible if you wish to get results faster in another mode, but it means your opponent is free to respond physically to your Psychic attacks.
Leaving suggestions in your opponent's mind works pretty much as you would expect; the further a suggestion is from the target's normal inclinations, the greater a Psyche advantage it takes for it to work. Duration is a factor; the longer a mind is out of the suggestor's direct Psychic contact, the easier it becomes to shake the suggestion. Asking someone to murder someone they love two days from now is unlikely to work unless the target is massively inferior in Psyche.
Keep in mind that full mental domination--when someone else's body becomes your puppet--has three very real disadvantages. First, you must maintain a psychic link between yourself and the target, otherwise domination drops. Second, while you have full access to their body, you have no access to their memories; if you want information you can't be throwing their body around. Third, and most dangerously, while you are inside another person's body you have little control over and only dim awareness of your own. If attacked you will probably notice, but you simply cannot move more than one body at a time.
Some further notes on Psyche combat:
  • Keeping the Link: Tactically, the first thing almost any target of Psychic combat is going to do is try and break the Psychic link-- drop the Trump call, move away, disrupt your Logrus tendril, etc. Keeping that link open is always the first concern of a Psychic offense.
  • Brain Aneurysm!: Doing physical damage through Psychic combat is possible but not terribly useful. It cannot do more than a surface wound in and of itself, and thus has to gradually stack wounds in a lengthy process to actually kill someone. Unless your Psyche advantage is enough to maintain a body-lock at the same time, this usually gives your opponent plenty of chances to thwart you.
  • Psyche in Physical Combat: Really, Psyche only has two useful tricks in physical combat. First, it can be used to detect concealed opponents via the Perception ability. Second, it can turn Strength combat into Psyche combat when you're grappled (assuming you can make eye contact or touch skin)-- but to do this trick effectively your advantage in Psyche needs to be significantly greater than your opponent's advantage in Strength.

Wounds and Healing

Getting Hurt

Wounds are for descriptive convenience: a surface wound isn't anything you need to worry about, a serious wound will actually impair you, and a deadly wound will probably kill you if you leave it untended for very long. Any individual wound level could represent a variety of different conditions; a serious wound could mean a knife-wound in the gut, a broken arm, a serious concussion, or a severe burn. Any player can take four surface wounds, two serious wounds, and one deadly wound. Characters with high Strength may be able to take significantly more wounds.
Wounds roll upwards, filling the next box after your current most significant wound. For example, if you have a serious wound, even a surface wound is enough to cause you major impairment, and therefore counts as another serious wound. If you already have two serious wounds, another surface or serious wound would count as a deadly wound. And if you have a deadly wound, any wound at all will simply kill you. It is possible to bypass the wound track entirely and kill someone in one shot, but this is extremely difficult if the target has Amber-ranked stats.

Getting Better

Healing is governed by Endurance, and the details can be found on the Endurance page.

Murder

Of course, "combat" is not always the appropriate word for what happens in Throne Wars; combat implies a certain amount of fairness or at the very least an exchange of attacks. What frequently happens in Throne Wars is better described as murder-- the killing of a person without a real chance for them to fight back. Murdering someone in Amber is entirely possible, but it takes a great deal of thought and has to account for the fundamental rules above: nothing is automatic.
Some tricks of the murderer's trade:
  • Poisons: Poisons are not technically covered under the existing Item rules. However, they can be simulated using the Item Attributes as if they worked against Endurance; a 1-pt poison is enough kill humans relatively quickly, and a 4-pt poison is enough to kill an unranked Amberite.
  • Deathtrap Shadows: One of the most popular ways to murder someone is to get them to a tailor-made Shadow with the exits locked by Restricted Access. Remember, however, that Restricted Access can be broken by a variety of different methods. If one is trying to construct a deathtrap, it is best to ensure it operates quickly.

Blood Curses


The Other Rules

Optional Mechanics

Abort!

With this mechanic, you are able to renege on your declared action in Combat. Once everyone has declared the entire initiative order, it is still possible to change your declared action; this is referred to as an abort. In character an abort represents that "Oh Shit!" moment where you see something coming mid-action and change your mind in a split-second. Performing an abort abandons your previous action, but the necessary speed of aborts means that the new action must be nearly instantaneous. Common aborts include dodging, parrying, activating a Trump Trap, using a Power Word, and executing a Patternport-- anything that takes much longer than those actions cannot be used as an abort. You cannot take multiple actions of any kind as an abort, nor can you do anything else that round after the abort is completed.

After any aborts are declared, the GM proceeds to resolve the outcomes of everyone's actions. Generally resolution begins with the highest Warfare action and works its way down, although it is possible to declare your action to execute later than it normally would. Endurance costs for actions are collected during this phase. If the situation remains unresolved after all actions are executed, the GM starts another round of declarations. This repeats until the combat is concluded.

Getting Some Help

Some Amberites are better at commanding Armies than others, as shown by their relative Warfare Rank. As such, Amberites of higher Warfare might choose to assist their forlorn siblings during combat. Amberites can do this in two ways, refered to as "Drill Sergeant" and "Good Friend," which denotes the amount of direction the Higher Warfare Amberite gives to the lower one. When acting as a "Drill Sergeant," the Higher Warfare Amberite does not act and is referred to as the Drill Sergeant. The Drill Sergeant directs the lower warfare Amberite for as long as he wishes and may stop doing so at any time. While the Drill Sergeant barks their orders, the directed Amberite acts at the Drill Sergeant's full Warfare. This includes all benefits for the Warfare Rank that the Drill Sergeant themselves would receive. If the Drill sergeant is actively engaged in the fight, then the other Amberite looses all bonuses until the Drill Sergeant resumes giving them orders. If a Drill Sergeant is actively giving orders and is attacked, they are treated as only having the Warfare of the directed Amberite instead of their own.
The "Good Friend" maneuver is one where a Higher Warfare Amberite, the Friend, gives advice to a Lower Warfare Amberite. Unlike when acting as a Drill Sergeant, the Friend still takes their regular Warfare Action. The directed Amberite receives purely an Initiative bonus from the Friend's advice, no other benefits of Warfare Rank are imparted. The Friend's attention will be split, granting Advantage, by giving directions, while the directed Amberite acts at a Warfare between their two ranks, instead of acting at her regular Initiative. The specific combined Warfare Rank is determined by the GM when this maneuver is declared and will usually stay the same throughout the maneuver.
To be Acting as a "Good Friend" or as a "Drill Sergeant" both Amberites must be willing, or psyche dominated, into giving/follow the other's orders. Use of either maneuver being in effect must be declared at the directed Amberite's regular warfare each round.