First Sword revolves around the management of the player's stable of arena fighters. Known as a ludus, the stable is the collection of inexperienced slaves purchased at auction and veteran gladiators hired on contract who are managed by the player as he attempts to become the dominant stable in his provincial village. Success depends upon the effective use and development of the player's gladiators, as a major investment can be lost in an instant with the The object is to continually develop the stable's gladiators, and thereby enable the stable to grow in wealth and fame in order to receive an invitation to make the challenging leap to a larger city that is closer to the center of the empire, the great city of Amorr, the caput mundi.
The successful stable owner will refrain from relying too heavily on cheap goblins and criminals that serve as little more than blade fodder, while also being careful to avoid putting his veterans and champion fighters at risk when they are tired or wounded from previous bouts. His fighters compete with the gladiators of eleven other stables in the village or city, which are usually managed by other human owners. However, an advanced artificial intelligence with widely varying preferences for different races and types of gladiators, as well as acquisition, management and training practices, means that the competition will always be lethal even if a stable owner drops out in the middle of a combat season.
Each gladiator has more than 50 individual attributes, allowing for a considerable amount of flexibility in every stable owner's approach to preparing his fighters for arena combat. With up to 24 gladiators to train and manage, First Sword is designed to reward the skilled stable owner capable of utilizing different strategies depending upon the situation faced.