Don’t Forget Your Protractor — Delta Force: Terror At Sea

Terror At Sea

Author: William H. Keith, Jr.
Publisher: Task Force Games
Year Published: 1986
Page Count: 48

In 1985 the Italian cruise ship MS Achille Lauro was hijacked by armed terrorists representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) off the coast of Egypt as the ship made its way to Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal. The ship’s hijacking was premature and not the plan of the terrorists on board; the original intent was to attack Ashdod, Israel, the final destination of the cruise. Their cabin steward discovered them fully armed in their unlocked cabin as he was dropping off complimentary fruit. They were in the process of removing gasoline residue from their weapons with hairdryers (the weapons were previously hidden in a gas tank of a car). The terrorists panicked and seized control of the ship. They changed the ship’s heading to Syria, but not before an SOS was sent by the crew.

The terrorists began separating hostages—corralling all American, British, and Jewish passengers together. When the ship arrived off Tartus, Syria, the terrorist broke radio silence and announced their demands. Their demands were not met, and Leon Klinghoffer a Jewish-American confined to a wheelchair, was executed. His body and wheelchair dumped into the sea.

The Syrian government rejected the terrorists and told them to go back from whence they came—Egypt. Meanwhile, the U.S. Seals, counter-terrorist team, was preparing for an assault as the ship returned. In Egypt, the terrorists negotiated safe passage for themselves out of the country in exchange for the ship and its hostages. The terrorists boarded an Egyptair plane and took off but, U.S. Forces intercepted it and forced it to land in Italy, where they were taken into custody.

Delta Force: Terror at Sea is a scenario for the Delta Force: America Strikes Back! RPG using the hijacking of MS Achille Lauro as its template. Terror at Sea sets up a similar situation without recreating the real-life hijacking. The Italian luxury cruise liner Neptuno scheduled to tour the eastern sections of the Mediterranean Sea, was docked in Alexandria for a two-day stopover so passengers could visit Alexandria and Cairo. Many of the 500 passengers disembarked, leaving several hundred onboard along with 280 ship crew members. At 2:30 pm, a bomb explodes at the waterfront killing 12 people. Fifteen minutes later, a large tan panel truck races out to the Neptuno’s gangplank, and several armed men board. A second truck arrives moments later, and several men are seen carrying crates aboard. The Egyptian authority immediately shut down the waterfront and refuse clearance for the Neptuno to leave.

Not allowed to leave, the terrorists applied pressure on the Egyptian authorities by claiming to have a bomb and threatened to detonate if not given clearance to leave port. The Egyptian authorities folded and allowed the ship to leave. They continued to track the ship as attempts to contact it are ignored. The next day the terrorists issue their demands and threaten to blow up the ship if they are not met. The president of the United States and Secretary of State were informed of the situation shortly after the hijacking and have authorized Delta Force and SEAL teams which are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. It is at this point where the scenario begins.

Codename “Operation Posiden,” as the scenario is referred to, is playable as a “Tactical Operation” or a “Strategic Operation.” A “Tactical Operation” allows the players to roleplay just the rescue mission, while the “Strategic Operation” has players tracking the ship’s movements while developing their own rescue plan and implement it. The “Tactical Operation” is great for quick one-shots or con games, whereas the “Strategic Operation” can span several gaming sessions and give a broader roleplaying experience. Both options have the same mission objectives; secure the release of the Neptuno’s passengers and crew (main objective); capture a hijacker for interrogation, and don’t allow the situation to embolden the terrorist’s cause or cause political damage (secondary objectives).

Gamemasters are provided with various tables to determine the weather, the ship’s course, and speed when running Terror at Sea as a “Strategic Operation.” Weather plays a big part in planning and executing this rescue operation. Gamemasters roll each day on a special weather chart specific to this scenario. Sunny days allow for greater visibility, while storms might hide a small approaching assault craft. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A storm is not likely, but if it does get selected, sub-charts into its severity are provided.

If the weather was not enough to make planning a rescue mission harder, players will have to guess where the ship is heading. The Gamemaster chooses the terrorist’s destination from 10 Mediterranean ports (roll or random). Each game day rolls three times, morning, afternoon, and night on a chart to see if the ship makes any course corrections to evade pursuers. The ship could change course and speed or stop dead in the water and then move again. Players will know the ship’s last known coordinates after leaving port in Alexandria and are supposed to plot its course from there. The scenario comes with a player’s map of the region with possible port landings.

This is a first for me. I’ve never been asked to plot a ship’s course before, and I wonder how many people could. The scenario suggests the use of a protractor to plotting its course. I found an online document from United States Power Squadrons that show how to plot a course with one of their navigational tools, which is a protractor within a ruler.

Tracking and anticipating which port the ship heads to is very important for not all ports of call welcome U.S. Military operations. Players can opt to launch a rescue operation on the open sea if they wish. The scenario provides a detailed section for conducting rescue plans involving a helicopter, HALO, boat, and port assaults. HALO—High altitude, low opening—assaults get the most attention. This section features several charts for mishaps, like accidentally landing in the water and the hazards that accompany it.

Once the players are confident in where this ship is heading, they can focus on their rescue plan. There are several NATO and U.S. Naval bases from which they can launch from including Delta Force’s London Base. Depending on where they are launching from determines the equipment and other resources available to them. The scenario outlines the availability of specific equipment that might prove useful and at which locations they can be found. The players have access to all weapons found in Delta Force’s War Book and supplemental equipment found within this scenario. Players will also have deck-by-deck plans of Neptuno, provided by the ship’s owners. What the players lack is intelligence about the numbers of terrorists on board and where the hostages are. They are encouraged to get creative in sourcing their intel (posing as a reporter, sneaking an operative on board, etc.).

The ship’s plans consist of all the levels of the ship and not just areas open to the public. A detailed description of key areas is provided. In my last article, “Taking Hostages and Making Demands—Delta Force: America Strikes Back! RPG” I mentioned that TSR’s Top Secret module Lady in Distress (TS 003) used the plans of the Achille Lauro for their map. I’ve compared Neptuno’s deck plans to Lady in Distress’s map and the real deck plans from the Achille Lauro, and though neither of them is exactly the same, there is enough similarity to say the real deck plans closely inspire both.

Full statistics for key members of Neptuno’s crew and the hijackers are provided at the end of the scenario. As an added bonus, the author has included the hijackers of the Achille Lauro, fully statted and ready to use. The author gives all four hijackers involved and Ozzudin Badrack Kan, head of Abbas’ military command, and Mohammad Abu Abbas, the mastermind behind the plot. Though the two men were involved, they were never brought to justice and were allowed to escape to Yugoslavia by the Italian authorities.

Terror at Sea has the makings of an exciting evening of play; the “Tactical Operation” gives instant gratification while the “Strategic Operation” provides a slow burn. The latter introduces players to a new aspect of play—plotting a ship’s course—and planning a rescue mission to execute later. Either way, there is plenty of action aboard. Even though a real tragic event inspires the scenario, the scenario outlined is different enough not to offend. Terror at Sea can easily be used with other game systems with some tweaking. The basics are there to use, so give it a try and don’t forget your protractor.

~Stephen Pennisi

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Another excellent review. This adventure sounds like it’d be in our wheelhouse. I love the random tables for weather and the ship’s navigation.

    Liked by 1 person

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