Duel of Claimed Honor (ʁoʒʔʒaχ tɬɛtɬ)

Ghoj'jah Tlhetlh

In some cultures, "coming of age" rites and rituals are important. One such ritual is the ghoj'jah tlhetlh, the "duel of claimed honor". It holds an important position within the western cultures of Arjin, particularly for the traditionalist Irdárians.

Arij'El dak, Valon'ka, Gowr'nu!
("I am Arij'El, daughter of Valon, of House Gowr!")
Nihisum maj'e. Mus'eh ej' nu'ta', mohovam. Luj moh da! Loj jid'la' ta' mo me', wa' ta' jaj! Ho mad wij ghoj jah!
("I have come this day, to claim my ghoj. To take my rightful place in my house. To serve it with my life.")

— Rite pre-amble in Qaj

Ghoj or "Honor"

"Honor" is perhaps a poor word, but alas, our language lacks the capability to succinctly describe the concept of ghoj (rodj). It can be described as status, honor, face and respect all in one. It is a measure of one's entire value as a character. A person with no ghoj has no political influence, no respect, nor any great value as a person. A person who's ghoj is low or in question is automatically untrustworthy.

Children do not have ghoj of their own. Instead they belong to the ghoj of their parents and their house (clan). This goes both ways. A child may be protected by a parent with strong ghoj, but that child's actions also reflect back on the parent's ghoj. So an unruly or untrustworthy child may harm their parent's ghoj.

Becoming adult

When a child comes of age, the time comes to claim their own ghoj. The cultures of the west are focused on war, conquest and conflict, but they are not savages. Martial knowledge and skill is of utmost importance and greatly valued, considering violence and strength are core values of the morvátian cultures in general and the Irdárians in particular.

It is therefore required that a child stakes their own ghoj and take their place in the house. This is what the rite is all about.

The Rite

Every child serves a mentor. Usually an elder in their house. The rite is simple; the child must finally defeat their mentor in martial combat. The duel is not to the death, or even necessarily to first blood, but injuries are common. In the rare case the elder is too old to fight themselves, a chosen champion fights in their stead.

Prior to completing the rite, children are seen as children, even if they are old enough to be considered adult. A child may undergo the rite whenever they wish, but until they have completed it, they carry little respect and influence on their own.

The Duel

The duel is fought with the weapon of the child's choice. In most cases it is a mirror match, with their mentor using the same weapon. This varies a bit with cultures, or even individual houses, but the most common is a mirror duel.

The duel is fought until either of the combatants surrender. Either through exhaustion, disarmament or a registered fatal blow. This could be like landing your blade on the neck or heart of the opponent. Obviously, no one is trying to kill the other, so the blow is stopped before making contact.

Frequently, the duels involve several light injuries and some are seriously injured in the fight. Both combatant usually strive to disarm or trip their opponent, as it's easier to force a surrender against a disarmed or prone opponent.

Claimed Honor

If the child defeats their mentor, they are considered an adult with their own ghoj. They now have the right, and duty, to carry weapons. They are responsible for their own ghoj, and to safeguard and nurture their house's ghoj. Their actions are now their own, but their ghoj reflects that of their house, so responsibility is now on their shoulders as well.

The Dishonored

Someone who either never performs their tlhetlh or who fails to do it will remain a "child" forever, but once past a certain age it becomes a grave insult to call someone a child. It becomes an addition insult on top of calling someone dishonorable.

Primary Related Location
Related Ethnicities

Related Reading

Ethnicity | Jan 12, 2021

The Morvátu stem from the west. The Morvátian Peninsula house many kingdoms and they all share in common cultural traits, gathered under the label of "Morvátian".

Ethnicity | Dec 15, 2021

The Irdárians stem from the fields of Irdar, in the western peninsula. They are a warlike, traditionalist culture who value loyalty, pride, strength and "ghoj", most easily (albeit incorrectly) translated as "honor".

Language | Jul 14, 2021

The majority language of the west. The cultures of the Morvátian Peninsula all speak Qaj as their majority language. It is clipped, guttural and brutal, much like the people speaking it.


The word "tlhetlh" carries the double meaning of 'always' and 'duel' in Qaj. This double meaning carries with it the significance of the tlhetlh duel.

Cover image: Pu'hosmok tuhmopu wibaj'a. (Let us meet outside the village at sundown) in qaj script. by Tobias Linder


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14 Jul, 2021 08:38

Super interesting concept! It reminds me of both the Klingon and Hunger Games. The idea of claiming the ghoj through a (sparring) duel sounds just about right.   I would love to know what weapons a child can choose from (or is that explained elsewhere?) and what training under a mentor is like. ^^   Keep up the good work! :D

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14 Jul, 2021 11:02

This world is pretty solidly set in an early medieval time period, so common armors are aketons, gambesons, maille etc. No real plate as of yet. Brigandines exist.   Weapons are fairly standard. Spears, daggers, arming swords, falchions, longswords, some percussive polearms etc.   Irdárians are pretty biased towards swords though, because their cultural icon, Keyla, used a sword.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
14 Jul, 2021 08:38

Great idea! I really like the concept of ghoj and I love how you've presented here and how influential it is in their culture and politics. It's interesting that they've chosen a duel as their coming of age rite, very fitting for a martial culture.   I imagine the duel should be public, right? Do people also judge its quality? Like whether the mentor went to easy on the child and so it's "cheating"? Though it sounds that choosing a weapon in which the mentor is not proficient at all and the mentor feeling obliged to use the same even if it's not really mandatory is part of the rule.

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14 Jul, 2021 11:06

Considering it is a pivotal moment in the life of a child, it is likely observed by anyone of their house who can attend. At the very minimum, the influental parent of the child will be there. Rarely are there any "officials" observing, as each house is trusted to see to their own.   It is in the mentor's interest to present a capable student. If a mentor must "go easy" on the child in order for them to pass, that will reflect very badly on the mentor, so no mentor will willingly do that unless they are forced by something greater than their own dishonor.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
14 Jul, 2021 08:48

Definite Klingon vibes. I love it. Now i really want to know how to pronounce alot of this.... <_<.   The fact that the ritual isn't to the death or even first blood though definitely drew my eye. What is the "winning" condition? It is the choice of the mentor? Is the ritual done in public? If so, do people still partially look down on those whose Ghoj'jah Tlheltlh is seen as basically given to them by a sympathetic mentor? Is there a stigma for the mentor that keeps them from taking it overly easy on their student?

14 Jul, 2021 11:17

The winning condition is the defeat of the opponent, by any means necessary. Usually through a decisive disarmament, a fatal blow stopped prior to actually being fatal (such as a blade to the throat) or surrender due to exhaustion.   The duel doesn't legally need to be observed, as the mentor is the one judging the child. However, it is common for friends, family and usually, the entire house, to observe the duel. It is a pivotal moment in the life of a child and many want to be there for it.   If a mentor were to "go easy" on a child, that would reflect extremely bad on the mentor. They would be seen as a poor teacher, who could not teach the child what it needs to know, so they had to "cheat" to get the child to complete their tlhetlh. Such a mentor would sacrifice their ghoj to the degree that such dishonor would require a ritual suicide to recover. (See Irdárina for an example of the legality of ritual suicide.   The child would likely carry that stigma with them for the rest of their life, unless it was re-taken or invalidated by law.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
Master Alixzere
John Johnson
14 Jul, 2021 11:31

Wow, that's an interesting concept. But what happens to the mentor ? If they lose, they basically lost to a child, so would that reduce their ghoj ? And if they do indeed win, are they at least partly responsible for their pupil's defeat ? They were the one training them after all.

14 Jul, 2021 11:39

Both accurate points. It is part of the social contract, and expectations, that a mentor should lose to their student, if they have trained them well enough. Since it is the expectation, their ghoj is strengthened by having trained a strong warrior, rather than the connotation that they got their ass beat by a kid. :)   But you are correct that it reflects badly on the mentor if the child fails. But it is more lenient, in the eyes of others, for a child to attempt the tlhetlh several times and finally succeeding, than a mentor going "light" on the child and essentially cheating them through. That would be severely bad. Like..."you have dishonored yourself irreperably" bad.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
Grandmaster PBE
William Belley
14 Jul, 2021 19:00

good read !   Does it happens that some mentors just don't leave any opportunities for trainees to get their victory, and they would grow resent or hatred for it ? I could totally see a frustrated one try to poison their mentor prior to a duel to gain his 'honor', even if the process to do so is totally contrary to what is expected off them.   Happy SummerCamp !

14 Jul, 2021 19:19

That is certainly a possibility. A poor relationship between mentor and student could lead to the mentor outright refusing to give the student their victory. However, the point is for the student to defeat the mentor, so ideally, it should be out of the mentor's hands.   But the mentor could keep stalling and saying "you're not ready" etc, but I don't think that would fly for too long.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
27 Aug, 2021 21:33

This is such a great idea - I love that they are considered children until they have passed this rite, and that to never do so is a great dishonour. I also really love how you blend the importance of the language into this article too, especially the difficulty of translating 'ghoj'.

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