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Cepheus Lethal Hits

Wound Levels for Cepheus Engine

This article originally appeared in Cepheus Journal #008, and was reprinted in the November/December 2022 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Cepheus Engine (CE) and other Space OSR derivatives use an abstract combat system that combines hit location, armor protection, and injury into a single damage roll. A hit that does little or no damage is assumed to have been stopped by the armor or generated a minor flesh wound. The system is simple, familiar, and dangerous. An average, unarmored character with 777 for their physical stats essentially has 21 hit points (broken into three groups of increasing severity) in a universe where weapons do 2­4D6 per hit.

But for those who prefer discreet wounds, there are options. After all, damage is like real­estate; it’s all about location, location, location! Otherwise known as shot placement. These systems replace reducing a character’s physical stats with accruing wounds. Adopting this system certainly increases the lethality of combat, but it’s no more deadly than character creation!

Step 1)
Determine the location of each strike or individual shot by rolling it on the Lethality Table below, or by applying the chosen location of a successful Called Shot.
Step 2)

Determine the location’s Armor Rating (AR) and compare it to the Damage Dice of the incoming hit. Subtract the AR value from the number of Damage Dice. Any remaining Damage Dice are used to determine the Lethality of the hit. Additional pips (+2, ­1, etc,) are ignored.

**Note that in this system Effect does not increase damage, as it is an abstract bonus for hitting in vulnerable spots. One could optionally add 1 Damage Die for an Effect of 6+

Step 3)

Consult the Lethality value for the location struck and roll the remaining Damage Dice, using only the highest result.

  1. If the highest Damage Die is equal to or greater than the Lethality Value, the wound is fatal. The target will die in 1D6 rounds; a roll of 1 results in instant death. The character can remain conscious during that time with an END 10+ throw. The wounded character can be stabilized with a Difficult First Aid test before time runs out. The victim will go down at the end of that time, saved or not.
  2. If the highest Damage Die is greater than a 1 but not greater than the Lethality value, the character has suffered a serious wound. The character suffers a ­2 DM on all tests per Wound. The character must throw END 6+ to carry on; this roll is allowed at the beginning of each round. The third and subsequent Wounds to the same Body Location (as opposed to Body Area) will automatically become Lethal hits.
  3. Graze: On a roll of 1, it is a flesh wound or minor bruise. It will need treatment, but has no immediate mechanical penalty. The character might not even know they’ve been hit! A character may suffer any number of Grazes without penalty.

Armor Types

This system assumes that weapons cannot penetrate certain armors no matter how good the shot: a 9mm pistol cannot penetrate an armored plate designed to stop rifle rounds. A sword cannot cut through plate armor. To damage an opponent wearing superior armor, one must use a superior weapon or target a location with weaker armor.

CE uses general armor descriptions. To convert to this system, AR is 1 for every 1­6 AR listed in equipment. Below is a list of common AR classes; note that low­tech level weapons will not be effective against high­tech projectiles. This list is designed to match the weapon descriptions that follow.


The covered locations must be determined as well. A mail shirt will cover the torso, shoulders, and upper arms. A pot helm or tactical helmet generally cover the skull. Some armors will also have varying AR: Tactical armor might have AR 3 for the abdomen and groin, but AR 4 over the Thorax for inserts.


Though there are multiple iterations of the CE ruleset, most use similar xD6 values to express damage. The Damage Dice values will usually convert directly to this system; drop any additional pips if listed. Below is a general list of weapons. This system works best if each round fired is accounted for instead of adding DMs to the to­hit or damage rolls.

Explosions will apply their damage to 1D6÷2 random locations, splitting their Damage/PV as equally as possible. So if a Damage 4D6 grenade hits 2 locations, each will suffer 2D6 (before armor). If it hits 3 locations, 2 will suffer 1D6 and the third will suffer 2D6.

Some weapons will have Armor Piercing (AP) abilities, reducing the AR equal to the weapon’s AP value. Generally speaking, thrusting weapons will have AP 1 vs cloth, leather, and maille armors. Armor Piercing (AP 1) rounds are usually available for firearms at up to 10× the cost!

Called Shots and Cover

A character may make a Called Shot to aim at a specific Body Area (­2 DM) or a more specific Body Location (­3 DM) to bypass a target’s armor. These are similar DM penalties for a target in cover. The attacker can either use the standard CE cover penalties and roll a random exposed location, perform a Called Shot for an exposed location, or suffer no penalty but if the location hit is behind cover, the shot is wasted.

Cover modifiers from the Cepheus Engine SRD are as follows based on how much is covered, crouching or prone targets increase their cover by one step:

Called Shots and Cover
Called Shots
To hit a Body Area ­2 DM to hit.
To hit a specific Body Location ­3 DM to hit.
1/4 (undergrowth, small rock, corner of a building) –0 DM
1/2 (thick forest, low wall, crate) –1DM
3/4 (jungle, trench, reinforced position) –2 DM
Full (pillbox) –4 DM
Lethality Table
Body Area Body Location Lethal Hit
6) Head 1­3) Skull,
4­5) Face,
6) Neck
4+. Wounds to Face will ruin a random facial feature. Lethal skull hits result in immediate death. Lethal hits to the Neck may sever the head.
4­5) Torso 1­3) Abdomen,
4­5) Thorax,
6) Groin
5+. Penetrating Wounds to Abdomen or Thorax will generate internal bleeding.
2­3) Leg 1) Foot,
2) Shin,
3) Knee,
4­5) Thigh,
6) Hip
6+. Wounds to a joint will cripple the hit limb until medical care. Lethal hits may sever the limb.
1) Arm 1) Hand,
2) Forearm,
3) Elbow,
4­5) Upper Arm,
6) Shoulder
6+. Wounds to a joint will cripple the hit limb until medical care. Lethal hits may sever the limb

Johann shoots Grady while they sit in a shady nightclub. Johann has a blaster with 3D6 damage. The hit location rolled is 4 and 4; to the Torso Area and Thorax.

Grady is wearing his best blaster­ablation vest with an AR 1 over his Thorax. That means that 2 Damage Dice penetrate the armor for that shot. They are rolled, taking only the highest number, to determine the wound effect. Johann’s rolls a 3 and a 5. Five is greater than the Lethality Value of a Thorax (4+), so Grady rolls 1D6 and gets a 2; he will die in 2 turns. Even if Johann was of a mind to deliver First Aid, 2 rounds (approx. 12 seconds) is not much time to do so!

More Options

Blunt Trauma

When flexible armor is hit with enough force, the impact will be felt by the wearer. To simulate this type of Blunt Trauma, whenever flexible armor such as maille or soft bullet proof vest hit by a weapon with the exact same Damage Dice as the AR (exactly 0 left over), roll a Blunt Trauma die, below. The results are location independent, as there is no penetration.

Blunt Trauma Die
1­4 A painful but otherwise harmless bruise.
5­6 A nonpenetrating Wound to the location, representing tiny fractures or severe bruising.

For melee weapons, Blunt Trauma should be limited to weapons that have significant mass behind their striking surfaces. This includes things such as axes, maces, and most two­handed weapons that are swung to attack.

Blunt Trauma can also be used to simulate punches, falls, being thrown to the ground, or other non­penetrating injuries.

Beasts and Aliens

There are an endless number of shapes and sizes to the critters of the universe, and may seem inappropriate that large monsters might be killed in a single shot. Though single bullets are known to take down large prey such as elephants, the scale can seem off to some. And you might not want to create a location table for every specimen of xenomorphic flora or fauna you come across.

Simply determine the PV and roll; this can also be used for NPCs to speed up play.

Quick Lethality Table
5­6 Vitals are hit, target takes a Lethal hit.
2­4 Wounded, target suffers ­2 DM to all tests per wound. Roll End 8+ to carry on. The 3rd Wounded result will be treated as a Lethal hit.
1 Grazed, no effect.

To use for larger creatures, apply a ­1 DM (or more) which decreases the chance of an instant kill and increases the chance of a Graze.

Using the Lethality Roll system as an Add-on

If you prefer to keep Attribute attrition as part of your combat, or don’t want to change your weapon and armor values, simply retain those rules but roll on the Lethality Table every 1­6 points of damage that penetrate the AR. For example, 1­6 damage = 1 Lethality Die; 7­12 damage = roll 2 Lethality dice; 13­18 = 3 Lethality dice, etc.

And finally, if you like the Lethality Dice but don’t want to bother with locations, simply use a general AR rating, forgo the hit location, and instead roll 1D6:

1­4) is an extremity hit; Lethal Hit on 6+.

5­6) is a hit in the vitals; Lethal Hit on 4+.