With 4e, my long simmering idea to run a gladiator campaign has re-emerged. Not in anything approaching full force, mind you; the tropes of classic heroic adventure and sandbox-y wilderness exploration sing their own siren songs.
But ever since I read Dragon #303 (the only issue of Dragon I have ever owned, though now I'm not sure now where it is) I've thought that having an entire campaign revolve around the gladiatorial arena was a pretty neat idea. I put it aside in favor of other things, but what's got me thinking about it again is that I think 4e would be a much better fit for it than 3e.
Having just one fight per day wouldn't massively skew the power curve or the XP system; I'd just have to take into account that the players would pretty much be able to use all their dailies, if they wanted to, and make the fights a little tougher than usual. And the game seems geared towards big, set-piece battles, so I can use lots of monsters and throw in lots of gimmicks and I'd have a lot of support from the books on how to do that. It's also an excuse to use mechanically interesting but plainly bizarre monster combinations.
If I was going to do this, I'd make the party a team of gladiators, and the setting would revolve around them and other teams fighting monsters and occasionally each other. Put together a tournament system, some kind of rankings they could work up in, and probably use an actual, numerical system so the players have something to keep track of. Then add in enough behind the scene schemes within their stable and between stables to keep things interesting outside the fights, and to make ways to make the fights meaningful. Rivalries, bets and so on; maybe the start out in some small town, outskirts ring and have to work their way up to the big leagues, maybe there's an emperor who they can impress by pulling stunts and doing daring deeds in the ring, or particular kinds of daring deeds.
I'm still considering whether they'd be slaves or whether gladiatoring (gladiateering?) is legitimate employment. To a certain degree it depends on the death rate, and how final death is. I'm kind of leaning towards the former, based on its potential to generate subplots, but figuring out why they're crazy enough to want to be doing this could be interesting in itself. The free-agent model would also work better with mixing the idea with some urban adventuring/mystery solving.
There's a lot more I could do with this, but right now I haven't figured out where it ranks in the ever-shifting pantheon of games I want to run. I really badly want to do a straight up, 1st-30th sword&sorcery-ish exploration game, but I doubt that's particularly realistic. I'm also not sure which one I'd get more players for, as I don't yet have a solid college group, and might need to do some recruiting.