In short: this book makes me want to run a game based on arena combat. It also makes me want to dust off my old copy of Lucas Arts' Gladius.
Fields of Blood and Honor is 55 pages, or about 51 pages of content, of systemless information about how to add interesting gladiatorial combat to your fantasy games. It discusses everything from how to build interesting arenas that are more than just wide open dirt fields to the common types of gladiators you'd find in an arena. It also discusses some new "Power Move" options you can give to your characters to spice up combat, and it also provides plenty of examples on how to win the favor of the crowd and what to do with that favor once you have it.
Fields of Blood and Honor brought back fond memories of playing the video game Gladius, and it wouldn't surprise me if that's where the author got a lot of his inspiration. That's not a bad thing either; that game was great, and it did fantasy gladiatorial combat better than any I've played. Fields of Blood and Honor talks about some of the same mechanics, such as breaking gladiators into three weight classes (Light, Medium, and Strong) and applying advantages or disadvantages to each based on the type of opponent they're fighting.
Fields also provides several examples of different types of warriors you would find in each weight class: Bandits, Berzerkers, Dervishes and others for Light fighters, Legionaires, Barbarians, Murmillos and others for Medium warriors, Centurions and Samnites for Heavy warriors, and so forth. It also gives an interesting overview of how to add archery and magic to arena fights (since those are common in fantasy games but were not common in real-world arenas) and the book provides examples of these character styles as well, such as Archers, Amazons, Gugnirs, Peltasts, Summoners, and Witches.
I'd really like to see a book like this turn into a full RPG rather than a systemless guidebook, because it provides a lot of great information that could be turned into a full-on arena combat game. In lieu of that though, I'm happy with the great information the book does provide and all of the fantastic ideas it sparked for use in my own game. That's a great sign of any successful gaming book, if you ask me.
Finally, though the book's layout is simple, it does contain bookmarks and a clickable table of contents. It reads without any errors with my text-to-speech software too, so I'd have to give it high marks for accessibility.
I wasn't even planning an arena-focused campaign before I started reading this book, and now I'm inclined to include some arena combat in my next game. I've also begun thinking of ways to adapt the concepts here to a cyberpunk setting, so I'm delighted to say the book has certainly sparked my imagination.
Even if you're not in the market for arena combat right now, I'd suggest checking out Fields of Blood and Honor. It's a great read.
[5 of 5 Stars!]