Your skin was blistered all day before the hot desert sun sank slowly below the horizon. Now, the deep blue mists of the desert night swirl about you in the lazy wind. The cool night air seems to soak up the heat of the endless desert sands. You shiver as you and your friends huddle around your campfire, glancing nervously at the giant pyramid in the distance. There is an eerie and mysterious feeling about that place.
Gradually, the winds change direction, carrying a thin streak of white mist that swirls into the shape of a faceless man dressed in ancient robes. The moonlight seems to shine through him as he raises his arms toward the pyramid and speaks.
"I am the Pharoah Amun-re, son of Takosh-re of the House of Mo-pelar. I am now only a shadow who has walked these sands for a thousand years in search of wise and mighty warriors to break into my pyramid and plunder my tomb."
The winds shift again; his robes begin to swirl about him and he fades back into the mists and winds. Why does this desert spirit want you to plunder his tomb? Can you survive the challenges of a pyramid that has stood for a thousand years? Or are you being led into a trap?
This adventure can be played by itself or as the first part of the Desert of Desolation series. For character levels 5-7.
I3: "Pharaoh" (1982), by Tracy and Laura Hickman, is the third adventure in the "intermediate" series of mid-level adventures. It also, uniquely, headed a linked series of adventures for the I-series modules, the Desert of Desolation trilogy. "Pharaoh" was published around the end of the year.
DayStar Origins. "Pharaoh" is one of the few TSR adventures that originated with another publisher. It was first published by the Hickmans through their own DayStar West Media as "Pharaoh" (1980). The Hickmans believed in adventures having plots, and thus "Pharaoh" focuses in part on the theme of the "curse of wealth."
Unfortunately, the Hickmans ended up needing money in the early 80s and thus offered to sell their adventures to TSR. Fortunately for him and for us, TSR wanted not just the adventures, but also Tracy Hickman. As a result, "Pharaoh" was reprinted by TSR two years after its original appearance. The TSR version of "Pharaoh" is somewhat expanded, including new wilderness adventures in the desert.
Welcome to Egypt. Ancient Egypt seems like a great setting for fantasy adventures, but because of the FRP industry's origins in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, and others, fantasy roleplaying games have mostly focused on primitive and medieval European societies.
The Hickmans' "Pharaoh" was thus the first Egyptian-themed RPG publication of note. Even by the time TSR published it, the only similar thing on the market was The Egyptian Trilogy (1982) for Man, Myth, and Magic (1980). Palladium's Valley of the Pharaohs (1983) RPG would follow shortly afterward, making 1982-83 the biggest burst of ancient Egypt-inspired publication before the d20 era. This trend is arguably related to the increased interest in Egyptology that grew out of the "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibit that toured the US from 1976-79.
TSR later returned to Egypt sporadically. The Desert of Desolation series continued in two additional adventures, which we'll discuss momentarily. TSR also developed two other Egyptian-influenced settings about a decade later in FR10: "Old Empires" (1990) for the Forgotten Realms and HWR2: "Kingdom of Nithia" (1991) for the Known World.
The Adventures Continues. TSR decided to link the Hickmans' "Pharaoh" with another desert-themed adventure they had on hand. As a result, Philip Meyers' I4: "Oasis of the White Palm" (1983) was published about a month after "Pharaoh," with some further development by Hickman. Hickman was then set the task of linking everything together. He did so in I5: "Lost Tomb of Martek" (1983), which finished off the trilogy several months later.
Expanding the Realms. The three Desert of Desolation adventures were originally located in a generic Egypt-like land. When they were reprinted in the I3-5: Desert of Desolation (1987) compilation, they were revised to appear in the Forgotten Realms, where the Desert of Desolation marked the former kingdom of Imaskar. Thus, the Hickmans retroactively became the first major contributors to the Realms other than Greenwood himself. The later "Old Empires" supplement further integrated Imaskar into the Realms by describing a few kingdoms created by former Imaskarites after their own land's fall.
If you decide to count either the 1980 or 1982 edition of "Pharaoh" as a Forgotten Realms adventure, then it was the first - though it post-dated the first actual mention of the Realms, by Greenwood in The Dragon #30 (October 1979). However, you could equally count the 1987 compiled revision that featured the "Forgotten Realms" logo as the first Realms adventure - and perhaps more accurately so. That reprint appeared simultaneously with the Darkwalker on Moonshae (1987) novel, a few months before the release of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987).
About the Creators. Tracy Hickman joined TSR in 1982. His first year at TSR resulted in a full half-dozen adventures, all of which had their basis in DayStar West: I3: "Pharaoh" (1982), I4: "Oasis of the White Palm" (1983), I5: "Lost Tomb of Martek" (1983), B7: "Rahasia" (1984), and most notably I6: "Ravenloft" (1983). Many of these books were coauthored with his wife, Laura. Shortly afterward, Tracy would begin work on what would be his biggest accomplishment, "Project Overlord" -- the Dragonlance series (1984-86).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.