Desert of Desolation
The cover of the Pharaoh module, with art by Jim Holloway. The artwork depicts the ghostly pharaoh Amun-Re motioning towards his tomb.
|Rules required||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition|
|Authors||Tracy & Laura Hickman|
|I1, I2, I3, I4, I5, I6, I7, I8, I9, I10, I11, I12, I13, I14|
Desert of Desolation is a compilation adventure module published by TSR for the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fantasy roleplaying game. It combines three previously published individual modules: Pharaoh, Oasis of the White Palm, and Lost Tomb of Martek. The modules were made for use with the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) rules. Pharaoh was created by Tracy and Laura Hickman soon after the couple married in 1977, and published by TSR in 1982. Oasis of the White Palm was a collaboration between Tracy Hickman and Philip Meyers, and Hickman wrote the Lost Tomb of Martek on his own; both were printed in 1983.
Each module is an Egyptian-styled adventure. The individual modules were well received by critics at the time of their release, and the compilation garnered accolades in the early 2000s.
Pharaoh is an Egyptian-styled adventure that includes a pyramid map and a trap-filled maze. In Pharaoh, the player characters (PCs) are driven into the desert for a crime they did not commit. The characters journey to the sunken city of Pazar and from there must travel to the haunted tomb of an ancient pharaoh. While in the desert, the characters encounter the spirit of Amun-Re, a pharaoh cursed to wander the desert until his tomb is robbed. Amun-Re begs the PCs to remove his staff of ruling and Star Gem from his tomb to break his curse. The tomb was built to be thief-proof and has so far lived up to its reputation. While in Amun-Re's pyramid, the characters can use an item called the dome of flight to control or reverse gravity; carelessness can cause them to fall upwards. The palm trees in this room bear exploding fruit. The characters also encounter a maze with numerous traps.:101 The module contains wilderness maps, and a number of smaller adventures as well.
Oasis of the White Palm
In Oasis of the White Palm, the PCs arrive at the Oasis of the White Palm, which is on the brink of turmoil. Shadalah, who is to be the bride of the sheikh's eldest son, has been kidnapped. The sheikh believes her to be held by his enemies somewhere in the oasis. The PCs must solve the mystery before they can progress further. Once the characters make the contacts they need at the oasis, they continue to the temple of Set and the crypt of Badr al-Mosak, and the adventure concludes in the city of Phoenix; there, the PCs must obtain the three Star Gems (the one from Amun-Re's tomb in the previous adventure and two more introduced here) and free the djinni if they plan to move on to the next module. The Oasis of the White Palm module contains wilderness maps, and also includes a number of smaller adventures.
Lost Tomb of Martek
The goal of the PCs is the tomb of the millennium-dead wizard Martek. The tomb lies in the vast Desert of Desolation, and the majority of the adventure takes place within Martek's tomb. The adventurers have to cross a sea of glass on skate-ships, and then pass through the Crystal Prism and the Mobius Tower in order to reach the final crypt.:102 The adventure is organized into seven parts, taking the party from the desert through a number of planes on their way to the Citadel of Martek. They must use the Star Gems to revive the dead wizard. When they have done so, he lets them choose from a variety of magical treasure, and leaves to defeat the Efreet.
In 1977, Tracy Hickman (co-creator of the Dragonlance campaign setting) and Laura Hickman were married. Soon after, while living in Provo, Utah, they wrote the adventures Pharaoh and Ravenloft. The Hickmans decided to privately publish the first two adventures they had designed together, Rahasia and Pharaoh, which earned them a reputation on a local level. Pharaoh was published as part of the "Night Ventures" line of scenarios in 1980, by Daystar West Media Productions, as a sixty-eight-page book.:172 However, disaster struck when Tracy went into business with an associate who went bad, leaving the Hickmans to cover thirty-thousand dollars in bad checks. They were driven into bankruptcy, and Tracy Hickman decided to sell their modules to TSR, "literally so that I could buy shoes for my children". TSR decided not only to buy the modules, but hire Tracy as a game designer:
- "They said it would be easier to publish my adventures if I was part of the company. So, we made the move from Utah to Wisconsin."
In 1982, TSR published Pharaoh as a thirty-two-page booklet with two outer folders, for the first edition of AD&D.:101 It was designed for 6-8 player characters of levels 5-7 and formed the first of the three-part Desert of Desolation module series.:101 The cover art for Pharaoh was provided by Jim Holloway.
Tracy Hickman noted that the module Pharaoh can teach positive lessons about the concepts of good to youth, saying of the eponymous Pharaoh character, the "apparent misery to which this figure was condemned by his own lust for wealth continues to teach the value of deeds over possessions to all who play that game today."
Oasis of the White Palm is the sequel to the Pharaoh module.:102 TSR published this adventure in 1983 as a thirty-two-page booklet with two outer folders, and the adventure was written by Tracy Hickman and Philip Meyers with cover art by Jim Holloway and interior illustrations by Keith Parkinson.:102 It was intended for 6 to 8 characters of levels 6-8. Lost Tomb of Martek is the third module in the series, and was designed by Tracy Hickman, for 7th-9th level characters.:102 Lost Tomb of Martek was published in 1983 as a 32-page booklet with two outer folders.:102
The compilation module Desert of Desolation was printed in 1987. The compilation features a cover by Keith Parkinson.:101 It is a revision of the I3, I4, and I5 AD&D game modules, with additional design and revision by Peter Rice and William John Wheeler. Wheeler attempted to expand on the originals, without altering their tone. The adventures in Desert of Desolation are designed for a 5th-10th level party and have been reworked to fit into the Forgotten Realms setting, and the material was made compatible with the Wilderness Survival Guide rules. In the revision, the designers added additional background material, as well as staging tips for the Dungeon Master. The details of various elements that had been open-ended elements were spelled out. Desert of Desolation includes a 128-page adventure booklet, a sixteen-page maps booklet, and a large A1 sheet of maps and handouts. The compilation module contains new maps, including an isometric map of the tomb of Amun-Re. The revision also introduces ancient inscriptions for the players to decipher.
At the time these modules were released, each D&D module was marked with an alphanumeric code indicating the series to which it belonged. The earlier modules have module codes I3, I4, and I5 respectively, and the combined module's code is I3–5
The modules were well received by critics, both separately and as a compilation. Called "The definitive "Egyptian-themed" D&D adventure", it was ranked the 6th greatest adventure of all time by Dungeon in 2004. Christopher Perkins noted that "This adventure introduced a new encounter format later adapted for third edition adventures," serving as the precursor to the format Dungeon would use for third edition. Chris Pramas felt the backstory made the adventure "so much more interesting than the typical dungeon bash, and the whole series dripped with atmosphere." Dungeon Master for Dummies lists Pharaoh as one of the ten best classic adventures.
Doug Cowie reviewed Pharaoh very favorably for Imagine magazine. He noted the "first rate cover art" and the overall "value-for-money feel" of the module. He also praised the well-designed layout and the standardized approach to describing encounter areas. Cowie expected that those who played this "dangerous, tricky and entertaining" module would wish to continue with the sequels I4 and I5. One month later, Doug Cowie also reviewed Oasis of the White Palm favorably for Imagine magazine. He found it a “tough test” for the players and praised the “first rate cover art” and “lively illustrations” inside. Cowie found I4 a “mainstream AD&D adventure with plenty of treasure, traps and tricks” situated mostly in “traditional room/corridor environments”. But according to him it also offers “plenty of interesting goings-on between NPC individuals and groups” so that the players find themselves in a “dynamic society”. Cowie cautioned that some encounters are quite complicated so the DM needs to study the module closely before running it. Cowie felt I4 to be an “excellent, varied module” that offered “excitement, depth and tension”. He concluded his review by calling it “a must for those who have played I3 and highly recommended for anyone else.”
Pharaoh and Oasis of the White Palm were reviewed in White Dwarf, No. 45 by Jim Bambra, who gave both modules 10 of out 10 overall. Bambra felt that Pharaoh involved "some excellent adventure situations," and said that the "design of the pyramid is very imaginative and the use of wall carvings to provide background information to the adventure really brings it to life making it more than just a collection of rooms." He felt that the presentation of both modules was excellent, and liked the new format, which utilized a short paragraph to quickly describe how the adventure should be run. He felt that this system, which also included distinct listings of traps, tricks, monsters, and treasure, "makes it far easier to find information quickly and reduced the chance of leaving something important out in the heat of play." While Bambra was disappointed with I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, he felt that with I2 Tomb of the Lizard King and these two modules "the I series is fast becoming one of the best available". Bambra concluded by stating that these "are both excellent adventures, they are imaginative, colourful and challenging. If I5 The Lost Tomb of Martek is as good as these two the Desert series will be one of the best yet ranking with the G and D modules."
Lost Tomb of Martek received a positive review (9 out of 10) from Dave Morris in issue No. 55 of White Dwarf magazine. Morris felt the module met the high standards one would expect from Tracy Hickman. He complimented the "fun with spacetime distortion", the Mobius Tower, and the Guilders and Maddogs—dimwitted inbred descendants of rogues and paladins, respectively, who became trapped in the tomb over many centuries. According to Morris, "There is the sense throughout this adventure that the characters are agents of destiny, heroes fulfilling a chain of events set in motion long ages ago—the author has succeeded admirably in creating this effect". Morris compared this module to Temple of Death, feeling that both are excellent adventures for characters of roughly the same level, but that while the characters would have to retire after the world-shattering adventure in Lost Tomb of Martek, the campaign would not necessarily have to end after playing Temple of Death.
Doug Cowie reviewed Lost Tomb of Martek for Imagine magazine. He noted the module's attractive cover, but found the internal illustrations to be of low quality even though they were at times helpful to understand tricky bits of text. Cowie's main problem was with the "purple" prose of the descriptions to be read aloud by the DM to the players. He doubted that many gamemasters would use them as given. Overall, Cowie thought the module to be of "praiseworthy detail" and "so well designed [he] couldn't help liking it".
Jim Bambra reviewed the Desert of Desolation compilation release for White Dwarf No. 93, calling it "more than a simple repackaging of the three original adventures... The adventure material itself has received considerable expansion." Bambra praised the adventure, stating:
"These adventures are classic stuff and have stood the test of time well. They mix roleplaying, wilderness and dungeon adventuring in an entertaining and intriguing way. While the roleplaying is fun, and the wilderness adventures certainly have the feel of being in a dry and dusty desert, it is the dungeon adventure sections which really shine. These are some of the best TSR has ever produced—they include tricks, traps, and combat, all the stuff associated with dungeons. But more importantly, they are connected by an epic storyline which really catches the flavour of the Arabian Nights."
Bambra liked the wall inscriptions in the pharaoh's tomb as part of the revised adventure, feeling that they add to the adventure and give the players some insight into what is going on: "They also pose an interesting problem, as they first need to be deciphered. Although written in English, their meanings are cunningly disguised, so some thought will be required to interpret them correctly." He felt that the "adventurers must rely on their roleplaying skills to deal with the problems facing them" at the Oasis of the White Palm, and that once they figure out the mystery of the place "the action really hots up and in more ways than one!" Bambra described the last part of the adventure as "Another dungeon, but a very interesting one." Bambra concluded his review by stating "These are easily the best of TSR's reprint series."
Desert of Desolation was reviewed in Dragon No. 126 by Ken Rolston. According to Rolston, "Tracy Hickman... is a first-rate designer, and these modules are exceptional examples of the module genre... The original modules were nifty dungeons, with lots of puzzles, monsters, and colorful encounters." Rolston felt that the compilation module was a bit too heavy for his taste, "densely packed with information, built around a very linear narrative, and consisting, for the most part, of dungeon crawls—well, it makes slow going, and the writing style of the revision is pretty wordy". He also felt that the old-fashioned graphic design did not help the adventure's pacing and readability. Rolston concluded his review by stating "The original I3–I5 modules were pretty exciting in their time. In this revised version, they still count as classic AD&D game adventures. But exciting? I'm afraid not."
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