Ritual Combat is easily the most central and most complex part of Tlabakan society. Ritual Combat is a term for any type of combat that a Tlabakan engages in for a predetermined purpose. Ritual combat includes any number of individuals on more or less equal footing. Ritual combat cannot be called between different castes. There are a number of informal assumptions that go into any type of ritual combat, many of them so complex that outsiders can't make out the rules. You cannot, for instance, challenge an individual in ritual combat for the same purpose that another individual or group just challenged - the 'grace' period is based on a number of factors and interpretations, and to non-Tlabakans would seem arbitrary.
Higher Clan Placement
Insults (particularly of lying or cheating)
As females tend to be larger and stronger than most males, Ritual Combat often determines whether or not a male is "fit" for mating with a female. In such a case the male often need not win, so much as prove themselves capable. Preferences differ - some will not mate unless they are defeated in combat, while others may not call for a combat at all.
Common situations where Ritual Combat may be invoked:
The Tlabakans are a heavily segregated society based on a number of arbitrary factors - many of which are based on the physical endowments of a specific individual, or an entire ethnicity, specifically antler size, tusk length, and scythe shape. One ethnicity of the Tlabakans, the Scroot, have no noticeable horns and have 2 pairs of hands instead of traditional scythes. These usually play the part of serfs and servants in Tlabakan society.
Within hierarchies, placement is based on combat prowess in personal combat. A ranking Tlabakan /may/ take council from a subordinate with more expertise in a subject, but is under no obligation to. At any time, a Tlabakan of similar caste may challenge for a higher position in ritual combat.
Tlabakan society is heavily divided, divided into separate clans. Clans are usually led by one particularly powerful family, usually of one of the higher "tiers," such as the Uurobouros or the Plellarus - races that have evolved to be individually powerful. A clan is usually a mix of many different types of Tlabakans because of the militant way in which society developed. "Lesser" Tlabakan races that were conquered centuries earlier in history, and their descendants, continue to serve in the clans as servants and light infantry. Tlabakans are heavily racist, so the right of Ritual Combat for higher placement in the clan is denied to lesser races.
Possession is 90% of human law, but it is virtually nothing in Tlabakan law. In the cases of material disputes, the individual or group who can defeat the other party in combat may take the goods. The most Tlabakan law will do is take some steps to ensure at least the illusion of a fair fight in a ritual combat - in the case of a spat between individuals, a duel occurs. In the case of a small group, a small melee. In the case of two wealthy families, guidelines are set on how large of a battle can take place based on the price of the goods being contested. It should also be noted that there is no overruling authority that dictates these - Tlabakan "law" remains merely a set of agreements and traditional practices set by clans and houses to maintain order and prevent the race from killing itself in civil war.
Deception is the greatest crime in any clan. Lying, spying, cheating - particularly in ritual combat - are really the only crimes that can be committed. The Tlabakan distrust of subterfuge is so great that Tlabakan houses usually contract non-Tlabakan races (usually human) to seek out spies for them. Accusing a Tlabakan of lying is an automatic challenge to ritual combat - such a combat is almost always to the death (most ritual combats are not).
With the Tlabakan dislike for technology, it seems incredible that they managed to independently become a space-faring race. In truth, such inhibitions against technology apply strictly to warfare. As the species evolved, food became less an issue as it became bred or cultivated. Hunting was, and still is, a great recreational pastime for Tlabakans, but the exploration of various sciences was inevitable for a sentient species. Medicine was one of the first sciences to significantly be expanded, it's uses obvious in it's ability to cure larger and more serious wounds, and to expand the life of a Tlabakan that would otherwise be lost to disease. Knowledge of genetics and a lack of cultural stigmas about love or relationships nurtured a widespread usage of Eugenics to artificially evolve their race. Shelters protected them from harsh elements - building materials are rare on Tlabaka so most structures were dug from stone. Even today, Tlabakan structures are usually very impressive underground networks of dug caverns. The difference is that rather than being dug manually with Kal, they use modern powered tools to excavate. Comparatively, it took Tlabakans much longer to accomplish space travel than humans, but into space they eventually went.
Tlabakans have a well-developed voice box - a set of them in fact. They can produce a wider range of sound than any native Terran animal, including birds. Voice, however, never factored notably into Tlabakan language. The vast majority of Tlabakan communication occurs in a sign language done with their smaller hands. Often language will be punctuated with specific sounds from the throat such as clicks or growls. Despite the versatility, a grown Tlabakan likely can't learn a new language that makes heavy use of their vocal cords - Tlabakans that are taught such languages from infancy usually have no trouble learning the language however. Tlabakans have very primitive hearing - oral language never developed because they lack the capability to make out complex sounds. Trying to converse with a Tlabakan in an oral language, even if the Tlabakan is fluent in it, is a slow, tedious task, requiring that heavy emphasis be put on all sounds being made. Certain subtle sounds cannot be heard at all.
If Tlabakans dont use sound, why do they have such advanced vocal cords? The purpose for such an advanced larynx is the extremely complex melodies that Tlabakans sing. Tlabakan music is completely divorced from language, and it is rarely, if ever, recorded or repetitively performed. Due to the amazing range of sound that Tlabakans can make, new music is constantly being made. Tlabakans fit their song into every aspect of life - during work, relaxation, and (of course) war. The raising voices of passionate Tlabakans in combat overwhelms the sounds of screams and cries of pain, drowing out the sound of exploding artillery and gunfire. It is raw emotion expressed in vocal form.
The Tlabakans are described most closely as reptilian by human animal standards, although the biology is too drastic a change to make the statement particularly accurate. An average Tlabakan stands somewhat higher than an average Human, although a large portion of it's height is attributed to it's disproportionately long neck and large head. All but the smallest Tlabakans are much heavier set than humans are. Females tend to be larger and stronger than males, and therefore occupy most higher ranking positions in society.
Tlabakans have a large range of senses. They have a collection of different types of eyes - exact number and type depends heavily on ethnicity. Most have at least two Simple Eye stalks, the stalk having a capabilities for wide ranges of movement. Most also have a pair or more of sensitive, low-resolution compound eye stalks that are meant to catch movement in most directions. Oftentimes a Tlabakan will have a very powerful, multiple-lens central eye that can focus much like a telescope to view things from very far away with a high degree of detail. Sometimes a Tlabakan will have a second pair of compound eyes (sometimes these replace their primary simple eyes) which have larger, flatter lenses, and allow higher resolution. The result is that taken individually, a single pair of a Tlabakan's eyes are inferior to those of a humans, but taken together most Tlabakans have far greater vision.
In addition, Tlabakans also have a heat-sensing organ that extends out the front of their cranium. It gives relatively keen indications of heat sources within several dozen yards, depending on circumstances. Many who are unfamiliar with Tlabakan biology mistake these slits for a smelling organ, when that function is taken by an entirely different body part. Tlabakans usually have a set of small extensions on the sides of their face covered in sensitive cilia. These organs provide Tlabakans with a very rudimentary combination of hearing, smell and taste - a more advanced version of arthropod antenna.
Every Tlabakan (with few exceptions) has a set of large scythe-like weapons on the end of their primary arms called kal. While they are primarily made from bone, their central place in Tlabakan evolution has caused some interesting evolutionary traits which cause them to collect large amounts of metallic metal into the bones during development. Because of this, kal strength is partially based on region, where certain metals are more common. Uurobouros Tlabaka, a very privileged group of Tlabakan society, have a large amount of Tungsten absorbed into the bone. Modern-day diets have of course minimized the effects of region. Kal strength is now likely based on wealth - the rich can afford more mineral and metal-rich foods to feed to their young during Kal development.
A Tlabakan's secondary set of arms are slightly smaller and weaker than a human's are, and terminate in a three fingered hand capable of fine manipulation. Most of their body is covered in tough scales, with particularly thick scales on their shins and chest. Their postures are stooped slightly, balanced by a short, thick tail. Certain ethnicity have a longer tail, accompanied by a more dramatic stoop. Certain ethnicities have completely abandoned their tail, leaving no noticeable stooping trait.
The Tlabakan homeworld is sparsely vegetated. While Tlabakans are technically omnibivorous, they show obvious preference for meat, having traditionally hunted the smaller creatures that subsisted solely on Ul Spores. Ul spores are the only native plant of Tlabaka, although it an extremely adaptable plant. It's most distinctive characteristic is it's ability to form a symbiotic relationship with living creatures - the spores, which form clouds in the skies of Tlabaka far more commonly than water vapor, land on Tlabakans and take root in their bodies, eventually growing to sprout various leaves and flowers which in turn release more spores. The spores are virtually harmless to the Tlabakans, and during the creatures' evolution, provided sustenance in hard times. As the Tlabakans spread across their home planet, they brought the spores with them. Today, the spore serve a traditional and aesthetic more than practical purpose. Tlabakans who spend time away from their home planet will often have spores artificially planted. The plants are pruned and cared for much like a human would take care of his hair. The spores grow anywhere on the body, and it is usually an obligation of hygiene to pluck seeds from everywhere but the back.
Tlabakan's have little respect for other races, particularly Terran ones. Tlabakan warfare has traditionally been done with no weapons - even after the advent of flight technology, warfare was conducted with infantry wars. Interplanetary warfare introduced them to the "cowardly" tactics of other races of using artificial armor and weaponry, and while lax to change their ways, the Tlabakans have slowly started modifying their own combat tactics to projectile weaponry. Tlabakans do not conduct weapons research, and base all of their technological growth in warfare on plundering.
Exact methods of warfare differ clan to clan. It should be noted that widescale warfare between clans is also considered a Ritual Combat - war is never conducted with the intention of wiping out another foe. The objective is usually to determine a victor in a feud, or for one clan to absorb another clan into it's folds. Unifying Combats are rare because they tend to be so costly - a recently unified clan is often vulnerable to being unified by a completely separate clan. Because of this, clans usually limit warfare to small tasks, such as claims over land or rights. Despite the Tlabakan disposition towards war, most clans stay fairly conservative unless they are confident they can win, or it would be too costly to back down.
Warfare is slightly different against non-Tlabakans. Tlabakans consider humans lesser species - they are naturally unarmored and unarmed, and therefore are physically weaker than even the most non-combatant Tlabakans. Compounding this is the human use of projectile weapons, which the Tlabakans consider cowardly, but have been forced to adopt in part merely to stay competitive. War with lesser species is not regulated, although it is still done conservatively to keep the clan strong. Since Tlabakan tradition dictates that a lesser species need give up anything to a superior class, Tlabakans often raid Terran cities and communities taking what they please.
The main force of Tlabakans are their infantry. Most wars are decided solely on having your army of foot solders clash with the army of another. Infantry are not armored and rarely armed. Wealthier clans may outfit certain units of infantry with pilfered or even crudely constructed projectile weapons. The default tactic in land battles is to simply charge the enemies. Against non-Tlabakans, a Technological disadvantage is usually made up for by overwhelming numbers and natural toughness. An unarmored Tlabakan can often kill a human in basic power armor when at close range - even if their kal cannot penetrate the armor, the sheer bludgeoning force is often enough to shatter bones and rupture organs. Tlabakans infantry simply cannot match a mobile ranged attack force. Many an ill-advised Tlabakan raid has ended in mass slaughter when faced with a force that can stay out melee with the powerful aliens.
Tlabakan ranged support is virtually unheard of. There exists the rare occasion where a clan may make use of stolen artillery in a war with non-Tlabakans, but Tlabakans seem perfectly content to live with what amounts to a drastic disadvantage in combat versus other armies that use better tactics. Recently, Tlabakans have started using a "Spore Cannon" that launches large concentrations of Ul Spores onto a battlefield, hampering energy weapons and reducing visibility - oftentimes a human will be at a larger disadvantage than a Tlabakan in areas of concealment.
Tlabakans have historically captured and bred particularly strong creatures (sometimes even primitive races of Tlabakans) into easily controlled monsters to use in warfare. Tlabakans do not, as a rule, mount other creatures. These animals will be led into combat by trainers (usually lesser Tlabakans that have raised them) and set upon the enemy.
Still extremely rare, some clans have started adopting mobile Armored divisions. These are rudimentary siege forces. They usually push or pull large, heavy barriers to guard infantry as they approach artillery installations. In the same vein, Armored units are used to drop ladders and platforms to breach walls or chasms in human fortresses.
Much like in land-based combat, Tlabakan Naval combat notably lacks projectile weapons. The core of a Tlabakan fleet are a number of variously sized ships called Crags. Crags are extremely heavily armored, bulky ships with innumerable spiny outcroppings jutting out from the hull. In particularly, they'll have a few large tusk-like extensions on the front of the ship that serve the core purpose of a Crag - to collide with enemy capital ships. Tlabakan Crags are rightfully feared because of the damage they can wreak with a successful strike. Crags are often high in number compared to enemy capital ships, and are exceptionally difficult to destroy. They're heavy bulk and large engines make them easy to out-maneuver but not to outrun. Anecdotes have described direct hits from Crags as ripping in half vessels larger and more heavily armored than themselves.
The jagged outcroppings on Crags break off to form a large number of small craft called Barbs that use high-velocity rockets to collide with enemy capital ships. The intention is not to explode - but to pierce the hull of the enemy vessels to let their crew of 5-10 into the enemy ship. A successful wave of Barbs will place several dozen of the small ships into a large capital ship, creating a fairly impressive invasion force in tight quarters.
Tlabakan Capital ships have little offensive force against fighters. They tend to ignore smaller craft, letting their heavy armor take smaller blows while they destroy the core of a fleet. Against particularly fighter-heavy fleets, Tlabakan commanders might order Barbs to attempt collision courses with fighters. This is usually a fairly effective tactic, although a wasteful one since, hit or miss, a Barb will float derelict in space after such a maneuver. They rarely carry more fuel than necessary for initial acceleration.