"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 hendel@ix.netcom.com* (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

(As of 8/1/98 The Belching Dragon I&T can be found at www.belchingdragon.com, and Hendel's permanent email address is hendel@belchingdragon.com)

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 jestar@webworldinc.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

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 reliving) 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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