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Dunks & Defense: Prologue – The Introduction

Welcome to the NBA offseason. The draft is done, free agency has faded, the sun has set on Summer League, and training camp is still pretty far away. We might not have any actual Milwaukee Bucks content, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use...our imaginations!

Disclaimer: this series is entirely fictional and will likely fail spectacularly. But I love the Bucks, and I love D&D, so while we’re dawdling around in the doldrums of July, August, and September, we’re going to try doing a thing that has no business being done: mashing the two together. If it’s good enough for Rolling Stone five years ago, it’s good enough for us. Let’s go on an adventure!

MCW Sports Science Center, Milwaukee, WI

It’s another slow day at the Bucks practice facility in downtown Milwaukee. Last season has receded from memory and everyone is diligently working on their preparations for next year. Mike Budenholzer, scrounging for any angle to further improve the team’s chances, was struck by a memory from his time in San Antonio and inspired to try something a bit...unconventional. To test it out, Coach Bud invited old comrade and wise veteran George Hill, the fun-loving brothers Brook and Robin Lopez, and rangy power forward/aspiring fashionista D.J. Wilson.
This is the beginning of their story.

COACH BUD: Hey guys, I really appreciate you taking the time to come down here today and help me with something. It’s a game. You can consider it an experiment, it’s actually something that worked out for us in San Antonio. George, do you remember that?

GEORGE HILL: Yeah, Coach. It’s been about ten years, though...

BUD: I know, but it’s worth picking it up again. You can learn a lot from this game, both about each other and yourselves. So let me ask you this: how would you guys like to live someone else’s life?

D.J. Wilson is wearing a lime green polo shirt, black skinny jeans, sunglasses, a hat that says “NOT FOR SALE” for no apparent reason, and blue basketball sneakers. Nothing matches, but it still somehow works.

D.J WILSON: Nah, Coach. My life is pretty dope.

ROBIN LOPEZ: Same here, but I know Brook sure wishes he could have a better life: mine!

Brook and Robin Lopez are both wearing Bucks warmup gear; Brook in a white tee and green shorts, Robin in a green tee and white shorts. Brook rolls his eyes.

BROOK LOPEZ: Sure, and that’s why you came following in my footsteps in Milwaukee! I’m sure the Bulls were happy you left.

ROBIN: Shut up, doofus!

BROOK: You shut up!

BUD: Guys, come on now. Fine, maybe the game isn’t about living someone else’s life, but it is about making choices, and telling a story, together.

A silence takes the room, with only George Hill nodding ever so slightly.

D.J: ...that’s cool.

ROBIN: What’s the game?

BUD: Dungeons & Dragons.

BROOK: Oh, I heard of that. I think some guys at Stanford played.

ROBIN: Yeah, some guys were playing at the comic book store during the tournament.

GEORGE: A few guys in the league have played too.

D.J: Like who?

George Hill and Coach Bud share a knowing glance.

GEORGE: Tim Duncan.

BROOK & ROBIN (in unison): Really?

BUD: Yeah, he’s all about it. You two would get along well with him, he’s into a lot of that stuff.

D.J: Can I choose my own clothes?

Everyone looks at D.J, who patiently awaits a response.

BUD: Yeah, D.J, you can choose your own clothes.

D.J (claps once loudly): I’m in.

GEORGE: Yeah, I’ll give it a go. I’m rusty, though, I’ll need a refresher.

BUD: Definitely. Robin, Brook? You guys in?

BROOK: Oh, totally. I-

ROBIN (interrupting): Yeah, we’re both in.

BROOK: I was talking, dingus.

ROBIN: You’re a dingus, dingus.

BUD: Guys, guys, we have a lot to get through if-

BROOK: Shut up, double-dingus!

GEORGE: Look, Brook, if you ju-

ROBIN: You shut up, triple-dingus!

BROOK: Oh, that’s i-

D.J: Can I be a giant?

Everyone stops and looks to D.J, who again awaits a response.

GEORGE: You want to...

D.J: I want to be a giant.

BUD: ...yeah. Yeah, I think we can work that out.

With that, Coach Bud launches into a brief but evocative overview of the game, the mechanics, and how it all works together. He goes into how to put together their player characters (PCs) explains to the group what the game is, how D&D works, and how the players tell their stories together while Coach Bud (the Game Master, or GM) manages the environment, the group’s adversaries, any non-player characters (NPCs), and weaves everything together.
Coach Bud also gives a player an introduction to the setting, one of his own creation: the land of Meridian. It is a standard, run-of-the-mill high fantasy setting, complete with elves and orcs and dwarves and castles and monsters and hidden treasure and much much more. Meridian has no major kingdoms or empires, but a number of independent city-states scattered throughout the region. The players weigh their options and go through all the choices they have for the character they want to play, until finally the party is assembled...

BUD: Alright, so it’s been (checks watch) six and a half hours. Do you want to share who you’ve created? George, can you go first, to kind of show how it’s done?

GEORGE (shuffling his character sheets): Sure. It’s been a while, so here goes...

Hey guys, my character’s name is, uh, Greg. Greg Hill.

ROBIN (incredulous): Wait, really?!

GEORGE: Man, I said it’s been a while, and it wasn’t really my thing!

BROOK: But it’s like you didn’t even try...

BUD: Hey, let him finish. Go ahead, George. Er, Greg.

GEORGE: Okay, yeah. So, Greg is a human...

BROOK (whispering): Oh, come on...

GEORGE: ...farmer...

Robin’s jaw goes slack for a moment. Coach Bud smiles, but it comes across as a grimace. D.J. is paying rapt attention.

GEORGE: ...who, uh, lost his family when his village got raided. By goblins, or orcs, or something.

D.J: Whoa.

GEORGE: So he, like, travels around and does odd jobs, and he wants to settle down someday but needs money for a house, or whatever, so he became an adventurer. To make money and find treasure and stuff.

The room goes silent for a moment.

GEORGE: That’s it.

BUD (quickly): Okay, thanks George. Who wants to go next?

D.J (ignoring Bud): I bet Greg is really searching for a sense of belonging, after losing his family like that.

The room goes silent for another moment.

D.J: That’s cold.

BUD: So, D.J, do you want to go next?

D.J: Yeah, man. This is Whidbey Optimus Bartholomew Skrillex, the Third.

D.J. holds up an exquisite drawing of a giant figure, over seven feet tall (because he has it marked), wearing a mismatched outfit of varying degrees of quality: a frilled blouse, a duster, linen pants, knee-high boots, a checkered scarf, a stovepipe hat with the top missing, and at least four belts.
It somehow looks incredible.

You can call him Wobs, though.

BROOK: Dude, I didn’t know you could draw.

D.J: I know, right? Anyway, Wobs is a giant, or not a giant, but...what was it, Coach?

BUD: A goliath.

D.J: Right, a goliath. Wobs wants to find the sickest threads in Meridian for his wardrobe. He also wants to save people in trouble and feed the poor and defeat evil and whatnot, as long as he looks good doing it.

Oh, and he knows magic, too. And he has a dark, terrible secret that he’s trying to escape.

Everyone in the room nods in surprise and approval.

BROOK: Okay, I’ll go ne-

ROBIN (interrupting): Here we go, guys. Meet Brooke, with an ‘E.’

Brook glares at his brother with a fiery rage. He begins furiously erasing and rewriting details on his character sheet. Coach Bud’s brow furrows, George smirks, but D.J. is caught up in Robin’s description.

ROBIN: She’s a half-elf sword fighter looking for a challenge. She’s gorgeous — obviously, she takes after me — but deadly. She’s no stranger to trouble; she knows all the right people in the wrong places, and she’s an expert of getting out of a tight squeeze. She’s a little sassy, a little flirty, but she’s all business when she needs to be.

BUD: ...okay, awesome. Thanks Robin. Brook, uh, what’re you...

BROOK: This is Robyn, with a ‘Y!’

Robin chuckles.

BROOK: She’s Brooke’s older sister...

ROBIN: Hey, uncool!

BROOK: Fine, cousin, you baby...Brooke’s older cousin who’s way smarter and way more clever than her, and Brooke secretly looks up to her and wants to be her.

ROBIN: You wish!

Coach Bud winces.

BROOK: Robyn is so smart that she got into wizard college early, and got her degree in...spells...and can totally wave her wand and bend reality to her will. Her family sent her off to look out for Brooke, because she’s a loose cannon and needs to be kept in line, but Robyn also is looking for more magic stuff.

ROBIN (laughing): I can’t believe you took a wizard, that’s so lame.

BROOK: Wizards are way cooler than rogues!

GEORGE: Brook, you’re playing a character named Robyn...

BROOK: Yeah.

GEORGE: ...and Robin, you’re playing someone named Brooke?

ROBIN: That’s right.

BUD: ...Okay...

GEORGE: That might get confusing...

D.J: Nah, I get it. That’s dope.

The group goes silent while D.J. nods, knowing something that no one else – not even Brook or Robin, apparently – knows.

D.J: Okay, so we have the party, right?

BUD: Yeah, you all have your characters made, so we can-

D.J: Let’s do it!

Coach Bud, taken aback, takes a moment before assuming his role as GM, and he describes the area that the players’ characters are accustomed to traveling through. He takes a deep breath, and he begins...

BUD: Greetings, travelers! You all hail from the lands surrounding Anchor, the first city of Meridian. To the east is the frigid wasteland of Curandys, and to the west lies the harsh desert of Incendys. Turning south would present the view of the Southern Coast, linking Lower and Upper Meridian. To your north, beyond the gates of Anchor, sits an impossibly massive stone archway, stretching for miles across the skies, known by many names but in the Common tongue as “the Great Gate.”

ROBIN: I don’t see what’s so great about it...

BROOK: Shut up, dummy!

D.J: Yo, chill, Coach is painting a beautiful tapestry with his words.

GEORGE: ...I shoulda said I was busy today...

BUD: The four of you are traveling together as intrepid adventurers, your various skills making your partnership useful in unfurling the mysteries of Meridian. You find yourselves in a tavern in the city...

And that’s where we’ll pause for our first (only?) installment of this series. Let us know in the comments what you think of it; maybe it becomes a long-running classic, or maybe it dies an unceremonious death in the summer heat. Give us your feedback and help shape the story!

Author’s note: If you’re a D&D purist, please reset your expectations for how faithful this series will be to the existing lore and mechanics of D&D. Meridian is an in-progress homebrew setting of mine, and we’re deliberately streamlining some of the mechanical parts for the sake of telling a concise written story. The offseason can’t end soon enough...