I3: Pharaoh... the first 'real' adventure module ever produced by TSR
Someone back in 1982, my assumption being Jim Roslof, thought it would be a good idea to let a single artist handle all the art responsibilities for a single AD&D adventure module. What came next was an inspirational series that helped define Jim Holloway’s career at TSR, either for better or for worse.
To me, the creation of I3: Pharaoh, written by Tracy and Laura Hickman, is genre defining adventure that is the first step in distancing TSR from the 1970s module prototype, which I have to say is no easy task. I3 has more polish, more maps, and yes, even a bit more artwork, but it is the cohesive nature of this module that sets it apart. Unlike previous module series that grew more organically from an adventure seed at a convention or gaming table, Pharaoh was pre-planned and developed in every stage, as was the use of Holloway as the one and only artistic voice you’ll find in the series.
Now certainly, in the case of TSR, Jim Holloway might not have been the most polished or flashy artist in the ‘pit’ by 1982, but he did an admirable job taking on the challenge. Certainly his work on the cover is something to rest your hat on as a kind of instant RPG classic, and he also gets a full color page interior card-stock screen as well that might not resonate with the precision and poise of the cover, but it does still show a piece of what makes Holloway great, that being his dedication to the truism of what adventure’s typically look like.
His black and white illustration begins with a classic, the ‘swinging rogue who tears off the side of the suspended boat’. Again, this is the root of what role-playing really is, not the polished and chainmail bikini clad women young male players so desire to help them feel more important about themselves when the cheerleaders won’t give them the time of day. Cheesecake isn’t what Holloway is about, at least not in Pharaoh, and if you look closely, you’ll understand just how thoughtfully he put this module together with his art.
We are on an adventure with Jim, and that should be what we appreciate, so although he might not have lasted long at TSR, I find it a shame that the talent involved in the way he created wasn’t more appreciated for the genius insight it actually brought to the game.
I should also take a moment to say just how wonderful the maps are in this module. No credits were provided for any artwork or cartography, so I’m not certain who did them, but be it one of the Davids [Sutherland of LaForce] or Steve Sullivan, they are truly works of art as well.
Artistic Rating: 3.5 [out of 5]