Module I3, Pharaoh, was a minor revelation to me in 1982, when it was released. I don't know that it was in fact the first module TSR published after it had changed AD&D's logo and trade dress -- I suspect it wasn't -- but it's the one "new look" module whose appearance is forever seared in my memory. I'm generally very ambivalent about Jim Holloway's art. He definitely has a flair of the "extraordinary ordinary," but he also has a tendency to veer too wildly into Three Stooges territory, with illustrations lacking either in the whimsy of Tom Wham or the quirkiness of Will McLean. But the cover of Pharaoh is moody, evocative piece of work and it really won me over at the time. Of course, it helps that I'm a big fan of ancient Egypt, but that shouldn't minimize the power of Holloway's artwork or how it signaled to me that the times they were a-changin' for D&D.
Pharaoh is, in some respects, more and less an example of the Hickman Revolution than is the later Ravenloft. It's less, because, even moreso than Ravenloft, it's a first class old school dungeon crawl. The Pyramid of Amun-Re, though small in size, packs a lot of punch in terms of its fiendish inventiveness. It's chock full of great puzzles and well-conceived traps, some of which are sufficiently elaborate to require diagrams to explain properly. That's something you don't see much nowadays. The maps of the Pyramid's various levels are very nice too. They're rendered in 2-D without the need for the over-hyped isometric cartography of Ravenloft, since a simple cross-section drawing of the Pyramid achieves the same effect without any fuss. The levels themselves adhere to a number of old school design principles too, allowing lots of lateral movement and offering plenty of choices about how to proceed. One level is made up of a large maze that causes magical confusion and disorientation, demanding that the players keep their wits about them if they ever hope to find their way out.
On the other hand, Pharaoh is explicitly billed as "The 1st module in the DESERT OF DESOLATION series." While it is eminently playable in its own right, its sequels, Oasis of the White Palm and Lost Tomb of Martek are much less stand-alone. Likewise, even within Pharaoh, there's a powerful undercurrent of a larger story above and beyond the characters' stumbling upon a cursed pyramid while wandering in the desert. A lot of the module is given over to providing background and in-game "texts" intended to advance this story along. Within Pharaoh alone, this can be ignored without too much difficulty, but, once a referee has committed himself to the module's sequels, there's no escaping it. In this respect, I3 is far more committed to the project of remaking the concept of an "adventure module" than is I6, which, for all its melodramatic excesses, is but a single -- and fairly simple -- story, not the kick-off to an epic story of prophecies and legends in the making.
I still like Pharaoh a great deal; it's proof that, for all the changes his work wrought on D&D, Tracy Hickman knew how to craft a very fine dungeon crawl. As a younger man, I played the heck out of this series and loved every minute of it. Pharaoh is definitely a product strongly grounded in the old school but you can see that it's trying fitfully to break free from its conventions. In its day, that was seen as a very good thing; goodness knows I loved it. Now, I feel a lot more ambivalent about its approach.