"With a simple phone line, a modem, and a home computer, anyone could set up an Electronic Bulletin Board System, or BBS. At a time before flat-rate calling plans, before DSL and Cable Modems, people would call each other's computers one at a time, leave messages for anyone else who called after them, and build entire subcultures that had few rivals in complexity and depth.
From these first few steps across the electronic landscape, an entire generation started to grow up online. They knew then what so many are learning now: the thrill of communication with others like themselves, around the country and the world. They overcame financial and societal obstacles and forged many of the same paths now crossed easily by the internet generations. They made friendships to last a lifetime. And they changed everything."
- Jason Scott, BBSDocumentary.com
The Belching Dragon Inn & Tavern Highmoon, Deepingdale Home of the Fortune & Glory Adventuring Company FidoNET 1:207/601 - A ChainMail Link Hendel and Aereyal Thistletop, Proprietors Gabrielle Flamethorn and Morgan Blackthorne, Managers Lord Asgardian, Landholder Sulphurous Maximus, Icon & Mascot ------ Fyne Food and Drink Comfortable Rooms If you're already registered, please enter your nom de modem below. Otherwise, please enter your real first and last name to begin. What is your name:
That's what The Belching Dragon's front door used to look like, anyway. The Dragon was originally a single-line hobby BBS, set up on a donated Tandy PC with a meager 20M of hard drive space, running donated BBS-PC software over a 1200 baud modem. It started as a private system for the gamers participating in a long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Hendel Thistletop was the name of my halfling character in that game, and his plan upon retirement from adventuring with Fortune & Glory was to open a tavern - The Belching Dragon. After a few months I decided that so much hardware and customization effort was being decidedly underutilized by a handful of gamers, and on December 14, 1988 the system was opened to the public.
A word of warning. The Dragon (and the ChainMail Links in general) are not systems with multi-gigabyte file areas, sixty-four chat lines, or lots of game doors. What we *are* is a collection of small hobbyist boards that are home to an amazingly eclectic and friendly group of folks, who come here to spend some time with their extended family. If this sounds good to you, step right up. And if not, stop in for at least one drink anyway - perhaps you'll be surprised by what you find here.
Over the next few years, a small but very friendly and pleasantly eccentric group of regular patrons made The Dragon their online home. The system itself grew through a series of progressively larger and faster boxes, and on July 31, 1992 it switched to Maximus-CBCS software in order to connect and exchange messages with The Mystic Keep, a BBS started up by one of The Dragon's original patrons, Jestar the Wizard. In keeping with the boards' fantasy themes, the fledgling network was dubbed ChainMail, and eventually grew to encompass six independent BBSes - the ChainMail Links. ChainMail was intentionally kept small, and limited primarily to the Southern California area, in an effort to maintain a friendly local atmosphere, and to make sure that most of the "Irregulars" would be able to attend the various live events planned several times a month (bookstore tours, Renaissance Faires, movie outings in period costume, etc) - I met my then-future wife at a ChoCon. A number of odd and mostly inexplicable customs, myths, and traditions developed over the years; the legend of Yogurt Guy, the oft-told and nearly always denied tale of "Hendel, the Yellow Dart Gun, and the Naughty Llama Pictures", seasonal circular arguments over the weight of 17th century cannon balls, and others even less rational, but no less beloved by the Irregulars. But in the end, as the saying goes, all good things...
Last Call --------- Instead of holding our traditional anniversary celebration, The Belching Dragon Inn & Tavern BBS will be permanently closing its doors at midnight on December 14, 1996, ending eight years of operation as a public system (admittedly with a rather pronounced limp toward the last). This will come as very little surprise to anyone who has stepped through The Dragon's badly sagging doors of late - newcomers might in fact wonder why any fuss is being made over the matter at all. But with apologies to those recent arrivals for the shockingly poor service at the bar of late, this announcement is intended primarily for the many members of Clan Hedgehog and the ChainMail Irregulars, the long-time loyal patrons who created and sustained The Dragon through some very good years indeed. The Dragon withdrew from participation in the ChainMail network earlier this year in a dispute with the other sysops over the handling of privacy issues. I expect that the rising siren song of the Internet would have closed the doors eventually in any case, but that separation was the turning point. Although The Dragon began as a stand-alone system, it truly developed with the creation and growth of ChainMail; and in the end despite my protests to the contrary simply could not function as anything other than what it had become - a ChainMail Link. Be it the first or last, a single link broken from the chain serves little purpose. There has been a pale remmnant of The Dragon lingering here, but no more than that, and it is long past time to write the final page. But holding to at least part of the annual tradition, I would like to thank one final time the collection of punsters, thinkers, poets, players, dreamers, fools, rogues, wizards, orators, babblers, and friends that have truly been the heart and soul of The Dragon. Through years of ChoCons, Blitzes, Faires, Wars, Kilts, and discourse from the sublime (not much of that, actually) to the obscure (final word - fourteen and a quarter pounds) to the utterly irrelevant, not only The Dragon but my life have been immeasurably enriched, and it is those memories that I will keep as the last candle's light flickers over the dusty ale-stained bar, and the shadows creep nearer. My very deep and heartfelt thanks to the whole rowdy lot of you. With that said, The Dragon is dead - long live The Dragon. I have begun development on a website that I hope will eventually incorporate the spirit, atmosphere, and "feel" of the original Dragon on the net. At the moment its little more than a chrysalis, but I have high expectations for what will eventually emerge, without regard to the constraints of its previous form. There isn't a great deal to see there yet (even most of the walls retain the previous tenant's questionable taste in decor), but I would welcome any of you who might be inclined to visit, or even offer suggestions (graphics, applets, coding and layout advice, whatever). You'll find the "next generation" of The Belching Dragon located at http://www.netcom.com/~hendel/default.html, and my Internet email address is firstname.lastname@example.org* (come in and help with our guesses about the next Thistletop generation). If you stop in, please do leave us a note with your address and/or site; one of the things I want to maintain on the site is a Rogue's Gallery so that those who wish to do so can keep in touch as the BBSes fade away. If you have email addresses for other Irregulars who might not see this notice, I'd very much appreciate those as well. We hope to see a lot of familiar faces in new surroundings. Fare well traveller - may the winds be at your back and your journeys pleasant until the path you tread leads to our doors once again. ---- The Belching Dragon Inn & Tavern Highmoon, Deepingdale Est. 1988
Activity continued to dwindle on ChainMail, and most of the Links gradually dropped offline. The Mystic Keep finally closed it's doors with this announcement a little over a year later, ending the BBS phase of ChainMail's history.
From: Jestar The Wizard To: All Msg #598, Mar-17-97 01:42:54 Subject: The Mystic Keep A bit of history. Eight years ago, last September, I got my first modem and started to get connected to the online world. I quickly racked up a phone bill and online charges (from Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy) that was nearly as large as my rent payment. By December 1989, I had cut back and found that I could get what I was looking for without having to pay online fees to a big corporation. I found the Belching Dragon. Less than half a year later, I had found an online home and became the Assistant Sysop of the Belching Dragon. At that time, the Dragon did not have enough online time to handle all of the people that wanted to get connected. I thought about it, tested about a dozen new BBS packages, and decided on Maximus to be the foundation to help Hendel expand the Dragon in a new way. Linked, we could handle more callers and see more of our friends. In April (the 9th exactly) 1990, the Mystic Keep first opened for callers. It took months to debug the setup here and to switch The Dragon over to Maximus, but it finally all worked out and we prospered beyond our wildest dreams. We added more links, increased the area that we could reach new callers from, and made more new friends. Then something happened. The fickle winds of change blew in a new direction of the online world, and the small free BBS was left out of the minds of those people we all knew and needed to keep the BBS strong. As more and more people left, this thing we called the ChainMail Links began to come apart. Slowly the Links began to disappear, and the callers led the exodus. Through the downsizing I thought that the Links were the stabilizing force, the part of the mix that had brought everyone together in the first place. I resisted the change, expecting the people to return. I was wrong. There are some that say that a BBS is mostly there for the Sysop, the person that set everything up and takes care of it day in and day out. I believed that as the truth. This was wrong as well. It has always been, and always will be the callers that make or break a BBS (or any other online community). It is the callers that make the changes, and the Sysop that does their best to try and follow those changes. I woke up. The dream was to help the callers and get something out of the helping that would enrich myself. This happened and for that I wish to thank all those that have called here and to the other Chain Mail Links (and any other BBS for that matter). In waking however, you come to realize that the dream is over. No matter how pleasant it was, it cannot stand in the light of day. For this I am saddened. I feel that I am loosing something very precious, very much a part of myself. I have sat with this computer, desperately trying to keep it going. I've made upgrades and expanded its capabilities to handle more callers, more messages, more files, to move mail as quickly and efficiently as possible. I've had to listen to it for seven years as I slept (yes, it is in my bedroom), the hum of the fan, the whirring of the hard drives, the clicks of the modems making and breaking connections. All of this will soon end. On April 9th, at midnight, the Mystic Keep will be closing down permanently. Those that are routing mail through the Mystic Keep will need to find a different source for their feeds (I will assist in whatever way I can). Those that are getting their Internet email here will need to find a different source and you should let your friends, family, and associates know of this change as soon as possible so that they will be able to make changes on their end. In a way I feel like I am letting those few loyal callers here down, and I am sorry for this. I hope that you will understand my reasons, and that you will find other, more vibrant online communities to join. As with most people, I too am transfering my online presence to the Internet. At present I do not have a website established, but I am working on it. I will be able to be reached via email at email@example.com. I invite you to write to me there. I will of course, continue to answer mail here at the Keep until it closes. As Bob Hope would say, "Thanks for the memories." J* Robert Romberger Fidonet 1:103/500 & 1:103/585 A ChainMail Link --- Maximus/2 3.01 * Origin: The Mystic Keep *Get the barbarians another beer!* (888:208/1) From: Hendel Thistletop To: Jestar The Wizard Msg #600, Mar-19-97 18:07:46 Subject: The Mystic Keep So here it ends (although The Unicorne may stand a bit longer, it began with you and I, and as both our doors finally close I consider the final chapter as written). I know exactly what you struggled with over this decision; it's the same kind of feelings I had to wrestle when I first withdrew The Dragon from active participation in the Links, then finally closed the doors permanently on its own eight-year anniversary last year. It's a hard thing, sitting with perhaps a single candle holding back the shadows that gather behind boarded-up windows and looking over the dusty tables that were not so long ago filled with such boisterous life and energy. Make that last draught last; the dregs at the bottom are bitter indeed. But even so, the Links were a memorable and worthwhile effort by all concerned - I'm proud of what we achieved, and have many fond remembrances to treasure. And though our old meeting places may be no more, we needn't lose touch altogether. --- Maximus/2 3.01 * Origin: The Mystic Keep *Get the barbarians another beer!* (888:208/1)
Still interested in (or nostalgic for) the digital Dark Ages, before the Internet Renaissance? Here are a couple of links for those with an interest in discovering (or reviving) what it was like being online, "back in the day."
When 300 Baud Was The Bomb
Back in the day, there were boards. Bulletin Board Systems.
BBS's. No Net, no Web, no cyberspace, nothing. Just boards, and their ugly stepchildren,
D-Dials. All strung together with phone lines, hand-rolled software, and 8-bit
computers. No backbone, no hubs, no routers, no DNS tables. Just one computer
picking up the phone, calling another, and having a little chat.
What this site offers is a glimpse into the history of writers
and artists bound by the 128 characters that the American Standard Code for
Information Interchange (ASCII) allowed them. The focus is on mid-1980's textfiles
and the world as it was then, but even these files are sometime retooled 1960s
and 1970s works, and offshoots of this culture exist to this day.
I propose to film and edit a documentary about all the aspects
of the Bulletin Board System and its place in human history ... This documentary can be the way to tell later generations
what the BBS was and what happened to the people who used it, and why the entire
world changed at 30 characters per second.
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