Taking Hostages and Making Demands—Delta Force: America Strikes Back! RPG

Delta Force: America Strikes Back!

The role-playing game of an elite anti-terrorist commando unit

Author: William H. Keith, Jr.
Publisher: Task Force Games
Year Published: 1986

Starting from the late ’60s to the early ’80s, death and injury due to international terrorist attacks skyrocketed. The death toll in 1968 from terror attacks was just over 200. Twelve years later that number reached over 1000—international terrorist was a growing threat. To protect its citizen’s the United States formed a new military force–1st Special Forces Operational Detachment–Delta (1st SFOD-D), better known as Delta Force. It was formed with elite individuals from various Army special branches. Its primary mission—counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, and special reconnaissance missions. In Delta Force: America Strikes Back! players are Delta Force members or other anti-terrorist units conducting life-saving missions set in the 1980s.

Delta Force: America Strikes Back! is a simulation role-playing game written by William H. Keith, Jr. and published by Task Force Games in 1986. It comes as a boxed set containing a 48-page “Rules of Play” booklet, a 40-page “Warbook” booklet, a 32-page “Scenarios” booklet, a three-panel gamemaster screen, and two six-sided dice. The booklets are simple letter-sized booklets with black and white text arranged in a basic two-column grid layout. Sprinkled throughout are halftone illustrations of Delta Force members in action— some depicting graphic images of dead terrorists. There is little wasted space within each booklet; each is jammed-packed with information. A cardstock gamemaster screen features numerous reference charts on the gamemaster’s side, while the player’s side features halftone illustrations from the booklets.

Game Mechanics
The included two six-sided dice are used for dice resolutions known as “Critical Rolls.” Critical Rolls are successful or not—high results equal success. Attached to Critical Rolls are Relative Difficulty Factors. These are modifiers that will either add or lower a character’s chance at success. With Delta Force being a simulation game, the number of Relative Difficulty Factors is staggering. Relative Difficulty Factors can come from various types of movement, endurance reduction, visibility, distances, wounds, psychological conditions, and so much more. It is this plethora of factors that may turn off roleplayers who prefer lighter rules and more narration in their games.

Character Creation
As mentioned earlier, although the game is called Delta Force: America Strikes Back! players can choose to play as other anti-terrorist units. Players can choose to create teams from the Dutch Royal Marines (Holland), GSG-9 (West Germany), Sayeret Matkal (Israel), SAS (Great Britain), Seals (U.S.), Squadron Anti-Commando (Italy), or Unit 777 (Egypt). Descriptions of each organization are detailed in the back of the “Warbook,” along with team templates for character creation.

Delta Force characters use four primary statistics: Strength, Agility, Dexterity, and Intelligence, along with five secondary statistics: Training, Endurance, Experience, Reactions, and Stamina. Primary statistics are derived by the player using 2d6+3, with stats ranging between five and fifteen. Secondary statistics are calculated using a mathematical formula with prime statistic values as one of the variables.

Primary statistics are self-explanatory, while secondary statistics need a little explanation. Training defines a character’s level of training and is used to acquire military skills. Endurance measures a character’s ability to haul heavy loads or endure wounds over time. Endurance is a commodity that reduces over time from fatigue and injury. It is regained with rest. When Endurance reaches zero, a character loses consciousness. Reactions simulate a character’s swiftness to respond to a situation. Wounds effects a character’s reaction rate—at zero, the character is stunned. Stamina is a character’s health and is partially based on Endurance. A character’s stamina is a secret—only the gamemaster knows a character’s stamina and relays their condition to the players. When a character reaches zero stamina, they die.

Other characteristics help shape a Delta Force character: weight, age, handedness, loads carried (unburdened, burdened, and heavily burdened), loads lifted, and loads dragged. In most RPGs, these characteristics are usually overlooked or not used because they require a level of bookkeeping that most players and gamemasters are unwilling to do. In this game, these characteristics are important for Delta Force is not only a roleplaying game but a game that thrives on simulated actions where such characteristics may come into play.

Delta Force has a robust selection of skills for characters. Most skills are knowledge, technical, or physically-based, while only three are interpersonal skills. Skills are acquired in three ways: Native (civilian life), Basic Military (general military training), and Specialist (advanced military training). Players use team templates chosen during character generation to guide them in selecting their skills. They may purchase additional skills using Experience and Training Points. Each skill has a level of adeptness. Each starts at level one, and more can be purchased—the higher they go, the more expensive they become.

Most of Delta Force gameplay is combat, but there are brief moments where information gathering is necessary. Delta Force uses three interpersonal skills for these situations: interrogation, orienteering, and cultural skill. These skills are used to gather information about the situation on the ground. The information can come from interrogating a prisoner or interviewing an escaped or rescued hostage. This is the only area of the game where you have “roleplaying” opportunities.

The last item to complete on the players’ character sheet is their equipment and armaments. For weapons and equipment, players will turn to the “Warbook.” Inside the Warbook is an extensive collection of military firepower and equipment at the character’s disposal. Firearms are listed with finely detailed descriptions and statistics that any gun enthusiast will enjoy. It appears that all the weaponry presented is correct for the 1980s. There is a wide selection of handguns, light automatic weapons, rifles, machine guns, shotguns, and special weapons from various nations to pick from. There is a section for grenades of all types, grenade launchers, and explosives. The Warbook also includes ground and air, fixed and rotary wing, vehicles. For equipment, there is body armor, military field gear, communication, surveillance, and miscellaneous gear.

What equipment is available to the characters fluctuates based on the requirements of the mission. The gameplay in Delta Force is episodic. A team is activated and brought into a mission briefing followed by planning and then implementation. The mission briefing or planning is where a team will outline the equipment needed or available to them. In some instances, teams leave with their equipment in tow, while other times, it waits for them at their staging area. It all depends on the mission and the resources available to the team.

Skill advancement comes from gaining experience for accomplishing mission goals. Experience points are awarded for completing missions, for each hostage rescued, and terrorists killed or captured. In turn, characters get penalized for allowing any hostages or team members to die or get wounded, failing the primary mission, or the interest of the host’s team is hurt by the mission outcome.

Simulation Factors
Simulated gameplay is Delta Force’s driving force. The rulebook has two sections dedicated to various factors that increase or decreases the difficulty of a task, travel, or environmental conditions. The first section covers time, strategic vehicle movement, tactical movement, events, and encounters, while the next section covers sighting and surprise.

Time is measure in two ways. There are “Strategic Periods” that can span minutes, hours, or days and “Tactical Rounds” which represent five-second increments. Strategic Periods are used for mission briefings, planning, travel time to the team’s destination, and any human intelligence reconnaissance. Tactical Rounds are used for combat situations or in areas where actions play out step-by-step. The gamemaster chooses which measure of time is used.

When deploying, a team may not be taken directly to the scene. They may have to traverse some distance to reach their destination. In these instances, Strategic Periods of time are used. The basics passage of time on foot through various terrain and environmental conditions is provided in chart form with dice modifiers and Endurance expenditures listed. A similar chart provides for strategic ground and air vehicle movement. In situations where characters are in Tactical Rounds, similar movement charts are provided with appropriate actions that may be enacted in its shorter time. Their action, type of terrain, and distance covered are clearly outlined. In addition, a separate Endurance Loss Table for Tactical Rounds covers activities, mathematical formulas for Endurance checks based on activity, Endurance loss, and frequency of endurance checks based on the character’s activity.

To be able to fight your enemy, you need to sight them first. Getting a visual of your target is crucial in Delta Force. Though sighting might not be as necessary for characters (it is usually obvious where the terrorists are) as it is for the terrorists—sighting a counter-terrorist team moving into position is important. During play, players may be asked to make a sighting roll. Sighting rolls are heavily modified by distance, lighting, weather, terrain, targeting, the target’s orientation, and the sighter’s position to the target. Depending on the terrain, sighting rolls may be needed for just one side or both. Other factors like the use of camouflage can affect sighting rolls.

Combat is the meat and potatoes of Delta Force. It’s not surprising that the combat section in “Rules of Play” is a quarter of the booklet. For me, to cover every aspect of the combat rules would be exhausting. Instead, I’m going to do it with broad brush strokes. As one would expect, the combat section is filled with technical data to simulate nearly any combat situation. Gamemaster and players can expect to find detailed rules for firefights, hand-to-hand combat, ground vehicle combat, and explosives. Be it the rate of fire from a weapon, its recoil, to the amount of cover a target has, or body armor worn, Delta Force covers just about all the variables found in combat to simulate real-life action. It even has an advanced hand-to-hand combat system designed to give greater detail for situations where a  terrorist needs to be disarmed to prevent firing on hostages or silencing a guard before they can raise the alarm.

The passage of time in combat is measured in Tactical Rounds (5 seconds). Characters can move, clear or load a weapon, take a stance, engage in a firefight or melee, prepare or throw a grenade, perform a task, or any combination that fits into 5 seconds. Any combination of actions that exceeds five seconds spills over to the next round. For example, the distance covered may be reduced to allow the character to engage in another action like reloading a pistol which takes three seconds. In turn, the player may opt to do both actions in full—full movement (5 seconds) and reload a pistol (3 seconds). In that case, three seconds of movement spills over to the next round allow another two-second action to occur or again to allow actions to spill over to the next round. The duration of an action or distance is listed throughout the booklets and Gamemaster screen in easy-to-read charts. Including a whole host of modifiers to apply in firefights—modifiers from weapons, rate of fire, distance, reload times, the amount of cover or armor a target is protected with, and the list goes on and on.

Combat is extremely granule, and the rules cover most situations your players can think of. Rules for firefights involving single shot, three-round burst, or three-round burst under fully automatic fire uses the result from two six-sided dice and any applied modifiers to determining the outcome. For special types of fire like suppression fire, Delta Force uses a mathematical formula to determine success. For example, a character laying down suppression fire with an Uzi SMG uses the Suppression Fire Table. The player determines the number of bullets fired—full magazine, half, or one-second burst. An Uzi SMG can shoot 600 rounds per minute (10 bullets per second). The number of bullets fired is entered into the suppression fire mathematical formula and calculated to get the Suppression Factor. The Suppression Factor is then referenced on the Suppression Result Table to determine the result and any casualties it causes.

There is a lot more to talk about, like hand-to-hand combat and how vehicle combat works, but as I said, I would be here for days explaining it. Just be aware that combat is action-packed, tactical, heavily detailed, and time-consuming.

When a character is wounded, a wound location chart is used to determine the hit location. The significance here is that characters have the benefit of taking cover and wearing body armor for protection. There are three wound levels a character may receive: light, moderate, or severe. Each hit location has a corresponding effect based upon the severity of the wound. Severity ranges from minor, like an Endurance loss, to a loss of a limb for a severe injury. On top of effects, moderate and severe wounds are subject to blood loss measured in three levels. Stat loss and other conditions like dazed, stunned, unconscious, and more can affect a wounded character. A character with the First Aid skill can stabilize a wounded character, but only time, off-screen, can bring back Stamina or Stat loss due to wounds.

Expanded Sections
Demolition, Communications, and Airdrops get expanded from their minute skill descriptions into their own sections in “Rules of Play.” The demolitions section encompasses the structural integrity of various materials, types of explosives, failed ordinances, blast and fragmentation effects, and the effects of using too many explosives. The communication section covers conversations at different decibel levels of speech against distances and background noise. While Airdrop covers all your parachuting needs from jump methods and landing accuracy to mishaps.

Terrorist Organizations
The Warbook features a collection of period-appropriate terrorist organizations in the 1980s. The groups are divided into regions: European, Palestinian (the lion’s share), and North and South America—21 terrorist organizations in all. Each organization is accompanied by a detailed description of the origins, ideology, international ties, history, and present activities. It’s a wonderful collection of period-specific information for the Gamemaster and players to use.

The scenario booklet has three missions in it. “Operation Red Thunder” involves rescuing American hostages held in the PX of a U.S. Army Base in Germany with a secondary goal of capturing one or more terrorists.  “Operation Lighting’s” mission is to rescue American and Israeli hostages aboard a 747 airplane taxied on the runway of a Beirut airport. Secondary goals for this mission involve capturing one or more terrorists for interrogation and prosecution by the local authorities. Team members will also have to work fast to prevent a Shi’ite Amal Militia from reinforcing the terrorists’ position or interfering with the hostage extraction. “Operation Swiftsure’s” mission objectives are to penetrate an Islamic Jihad planning center in Lebanon and kidnap a high-ranking terrorist official. Teams will also need to collect selected intelligence data before destroying the planning center while making it look like a rocket attack.

Each scenario’s information is well organized and easy to find. Maps, encounter descriptions, the key players, intelligence information, and experience guidelines are all included. From my read-through, each scenario sounds exciting and doesn’t appear difficult to run. I highly recommend enlarging the maps and using tokens or figures when running these scenarios or any scenario for Delta Force.

Outside of the Scenario Booklet found in the boxset, two official scenarios were published by Task Force Games: “Terror at Sea” and “Desert Sun.” Task Force Games also produced a companion supplement that expanded the rules and equipment and added more material to the game through its house magazine Nexus. Most of the material found in Nexus expands the weapon arsenal or adds new scenarios, but Nexus Issue 16 provides variant rules to play as a police SWAT team. Gamemasters looking for more material can pull from games like TSR’s Top Secret module Lady in Distress (TS 003), a hostage rescue mission onboard a cruise ship. The map used for the cruise ship is the Achile Laurel.

Final Thoughts
Delta Force: America Fight Back! is in a league of its own. There are not many roleplaying games that emulate real life without resorting to some distortion of fantasy. Granted, the missions are fictional, but a Gamemaster could easily simulate a historical terrorist event for players. The gameplay is slow if playing by the book. The sheer amount of positive and negative modifiers for everything, including the kitchen sink, is overwhelming. A stripped-down, simplified, or streamlined mechanic would appeal to a broader audience of modern roleplayers. Those who play tactical miniatures games may find Delta Force more to their liking than other roleplaying games.

Delta Force, for me, comes across as much of a roleplaying game as TSR’s Boothill was. It’s more of a miniatures game. I really love the setting and scenarios, but I can’t get past the system’s complexity. The game is bloated and dated, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Apart from the game mechanics, there is a gold mine of information to uses. The write-up of the 21 terrorist organizations, the highly detailed collection of firearms and other armaments, and all the little nuances of movement, visibility, and the like are priceless. The author of Delta Force conducted extensive research into this project, and it shows. Delta Force may be long out of print with no legal PDF to purchase, but boxsets do find themselves on the aftermarket. The prices for them and their supplemental material run the gambit. If you are patient enough, you will come across one priced within your budget as I did. If you see it, pick it up and enjoy the trip back to the terrors of the 1980s.

~Stephen Pennisi

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Excellent review Stephen. I’ve thumbed through the Delta Force RPG on multiple occasions, but never spent much time with the rules.

    I linked to this post from my RPG reference site page section for Delta Force to add context: http://www.waynesbooks.com/MilitaryRoleplayingStockpile.html#df

    Liked by 1 person

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