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The original Daystar West edition of the scenario involves a tomb which is rumored to be theft-proof. At the start of the adventure, the player characters are confronted by the ghost of a long-dead Pharaoh, cursed to wander the sands of his now-deserted land for time on end, in search of the ones who can break the curse and free him from this world. The characters soon find themselves searching for items which will end the curse and bring them wealth and power. There are five levels to explore in the pyramid, and a large exterior temple. The TSR version of 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. The module contains wilderness maps, and a number of smaller adventures as well.
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. The module was designed to be played and completed with a satisfactory conclusion with a couple of sessions of playing time. 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. 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. 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.