An epic adventure includes the revised Desert of Desolation series plus totally new adventures within Raurin, a desert wilderness set within the Forgotten Realms.
A Campaign Adventure for Character Levels 5-10:
Deep blue mists of the night swirl over the sands of Raurin, the incomparable Desert of Dust.
As the cool night air drains the heat from the sand, you & your friends huddle around your campfire, glancing nervously at the giant pyramid in the distance.
Gradually, the winds change direction, bearing a thin streak of white mist toward you from the pyramid.
It swirls & takes shape as a faceless man dressed in ancient robes & an ornate head-piece; moonlight shining through his ghostly body & robes, he lifts his arms toward the pyramid & speaks.
It was magic that conveyed you all to Bralizar, & an ancient map that guided you through the pass in The Dustwall.
But it was, after all, the tales that finally brought you to this place - tales of endless wealth, of spirit-guarded pyramids, of crystalline obelisks, of gemstones with mysterious properties.
Now, as the haunted voice of the spectre before you begins his tale, you wonder if the treasure & the quest are worth the price...perhaps your very lives.
Are you really the heroes of the prophecies, those who will overcome the foretold tests, & those for whom the treasure awaits?
It is time to search your hearts before you venture further into the Desert of Desolation.
I3-5: Desert of Desolation, by Tracy Hickman, Laura Hickman, Philip Meyers, and others, is a supermodule for AD&D. It was published in May 1987.
Origins (I): The "I" Adventures. In the early '80s, TSR published a trilogy of adventures by Tracy and Laura Hickman, I3: "Pharaoh" (1983), I4: "Oasis of the White Palm" (1983), and I5: "Lost Tomb of Martek" (1983). They were well-received for their vivid Egyptian theming — and perhaps also for their adaption of Hickman's manifesto for next-generation adventure design.
Origins (II): The Supermodules. In 1985, TSR began publishing "supermodules", which were longer AD&D adventures accompanied by map booklets. The first adventure in this style, T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil, was largely new material, but after that TSR began repackaging their old modules into the new format. The next two supermodules, A1-4: Scourge of the Slave Lords (1986) and GDQ1-7: Queen of the Spiders (1986), together reprinted 11 classic adventures, completing an extensive Greyhawk adventure path. The question was … what next?
TSR's answer was a repackaging of their classic Egyptian adventures; it would be the first of three supermodules that shied away from the Greyhawk focus of the series to date.
Origins (III): The Forgotten Realms. TSR was generally moving away from Greyhawk in 1987, in large part due to Gary Gygax's departure from the company. To replace their primordial campaign, TSR was developing a new setting, which would debut in just two months as the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987). TSR would heavily support their new setting with new products, but they were also retrofitting old products into the new world. One of the first such retconned products would be I3-5: Desert of Desolation.
TSR decided to adapt Desert of Desolation in part because the Forgotten Realms' creator, Ed Greenwood, didn't have many scenarios ready for publication. He had huge piles of Realmslore, but adventures were more troublesome. His Realms dungeons weren't appropriate because they tended to be either megadungeons (which were too big to easily publish, though TSR would find a way in the '90s) and minidungeons (which were too short, as they were intended for just a few hours play). However, most of Greenwood's games were less traditional, more organic sessions, centering on "heavy roleplaying, many subplots, a huge cast of supporting characters, lots of 'loose ends' that led to future adventures, the PCs choosing where to go and what to do, NPCs reacting to PC activities, and politics, trade, and 'day jobs' playing a far larger role than dungeon-delving" — and that couldn't be easily adapted to general play.
TSR wasn't afraid to bring in other writers to fill this gap in their nascent Realms production. They in fact wanted to avoid Greenwood potentially creating a "creator bottleneck", as had occurred with Gary Gygax and Greyhawk. So, Wm. John Wheeler was commission to adapt the original modules for the Forgotten Realms.
Jeff Grubb, the Realms-guy at TSR, contributed to the project, but surprisingly Realms-creator Ed Greenwood had nothing to do with it. In fact, he said: "'my' Realms would never have had pyramids"; generally, he disliked "overtly real-world historical ties and 'style'", a complaint that would become even more important with some of TSR's additions to the Realms of the early '90s. Nonetheless, with the publication of Desert of Desolation, the classic adventures became an official part of the Realms … and the first Realms roleplaying publication, out the same month as the first Realms novel, Darkwalker on Moonshae (1987).
Adventure Tropes. The original Desert adventures were primarily dungeon crawls with a heavy focus on storytelling. The new supermodule maintains all of that, but also has quite a few additions, reflecting the changes between adventure design in 1982 and adventure design in 1987. These new elements include: "history, storyline, and legends" (to better tie the adventure to its setting); an "adventure map" (to better unite the adventure as a whole); and "rewritten" text, "revised" formatting, and significantly expanded judging notes (to create a more comprehensive product, more focused on guiding the gamemasters).
The revised encounter format is a more carefully organized variation of the format used in previous books. Locations sometimes begin with a GM's description of the approach to the locale or an explanation of when the players might encounter it. A boxed read-aloud follows, then details on specific elements of the location, then monster stats. Though the format doesn't include any section titles, it's nonetheless very consistent. Chris Pramas says that it's the same formatting that would be used in Dungeon magazine for some time thereafter.
Exploring the Realms. This premiere Forgotten Realms adventure details one of its wilderness locales, the Raurin Desert. Amusingly, the poster map of the Desert is reversed north-to-south from its original orientation in the "I" adventures to allow it to fit with the actual desert in the Realms. The Realms connections are actually quite weak. There's a border town called Bralizzar, then Northknife Pass, and then it's into the desert, largely as it appeared in the original adventures.
Connections to the Realms would be slightly improved in the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas (1999), which better shows how everything fits together. A few decades later "History Check: Martek and the Desert of Desolation" in Dragon #424 (June 2013) would revisit the adventure's mythology, with twenty-five years of Realmslore under its belt.
About the Creators. Wm. John Wheeler was the co-founder of The Companions, a publisher of "generic" D&D materials in the early '80s and also the co-author of FASA's popular Star Trek roleplaying game (1982). He'd later work on S1-4: Realms of Horror (1987), the last of the supermodule compilations. He passed away in 2009.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and 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.