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The (Dead) Art of the BBS Storyboard - A Nostalgia Trip

By Karmakaze in Culture
Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 04:50:03 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

The recent articles on interactive fiction reminded me of one of my old favorite pastimes: the BBS storyboard. Part round-robin, part role-playing game, they ranged from sword and sorcery, to furries, to space opera. Volumes of text came out that would put some novelists to shame. And now they're gone.

Throughout the late 80's and early 90's, I was a regular on several local BBSs. I stuck to the New Jersey boards after my father had a very serious talk with me about the phone bill. I quickly became an avid storyboarder. At my peak, the last two years of High School, I was writing easily several pages of text a day. Some storyboards were free-form, others had strict rules of conduct. Some of my very favorite characters were built and fleshed out on those boards. I learned as much about writing and flow there as I ever did in a public school English class.

And then... and then BBSs started to die. First one storyboard collapsed, then another, and then... nothing. We had the web as a replacement, but it just wasn't the same. There were MUDs and MUSHs, but they, too, weren't the same - too ephememeral, too diffuse.

I got into tabletop RPGs then, and later into LARPs. It satisfied some of the craving, but nothing will ever be quite like those old storyboards.

You can find remnants of some, an archive here or there, or you can visit perhaps the best-known of the storyboards, alt.callahans.

Some friends revived an old sword and sorcery storyboard on the web using (of all the godawful things) Geocities' Guestbook function. It thrived for a time, and even spawned a superhero-genre spinoff , but they died in tandem from the core writers getting new careers.

Does anybody remember the old storyboards? Given the changing dynamic of the net, can they ever be resurrected?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Were you on the old storyboards?
o Yes, and I miss them 24%
o Yeah, but it was a passing fad 3%
o I knew about them, but was too busy scoring \<-Ra\) \/\/arz to participate 9%
o No, but they sound like fun 28%
o No 9%
o Never heard of them 24%

Votes: 53
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o here
o there
o alt.callah ans
o old sword and sorcery storyboard
o a superhero-genre spinoff
o Also by Karmakaze

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The (Dead) Art of the BBS Storyboard - A Nostalgia Trip | 35 comments (27 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
BBS's vs. World Wide Web (4.33 / 3) (#6)
by theboz on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 01:39:12 PM EST

The web, and internet in general, suck when compared to the old days of bbs's in that respect. Part of the problem is that you had a limited amount of users and resources so everyone had to have an imagination of some sort rather than just clicky click. Most of the BBSing that I did was just local anyways, and the ones that weren't I went through via telnet and such. You get a more local feel, and people tend to realize that you can meet in real life if you haven't already, so there was none of this deceptive crap that goes on in chatrooms, and some of the bbs's would have get togethers and such. Really, it was able to help those computer people without social lives get a life. Generally, because it was closer tied to real life, people were more respectful because they knew if they were being a jerk to you, you could go to their front door in 5 minutes. There were often things necessary to connect to the systems like callback and such so if you lost your access to the bbs you stayed off. There is a higher noise ratio on the internet because there are no safe guards. And I wouldn't want it to be exclusive because the original intent was to include everyone for academic purposes and such. Unfortunately the internet is now mostly commercialized. Back on the bbs's, companies had a number you could dial in to get their software and stuff, but the bbs your friends would run were not commercial. You could run a bbs with just an extra computer and a phone line. Anyone could do it, but it required more knowledge and commitment than it does to get online and set up a geocities website.

I guess what I am saying is that I have noticed how much the internet sucks compared to bbs'ing. I preferred the smaller more local feel of the thing and being able to hang out with the same people I talked to there. The internet does nothing for my social life, and it was never intended to do so. The web is basically 75% advertisement, 15% for research, 10% personal webpages, 5% interactive stuff that is good, and 99.999% crap.


RE: BBSs/WWW (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by tailchaser on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 03:28:49 PM EST

The web is basically [...] 99.999% crap.
Apologies for not remembering the attribution, but, "99% of everything is crap". This is hardly exclusive to the WWW. ;>

The internet does nothing for my social life, and it was never intended to do so.
Well, arguable, the internet was "intended" to be email - period. While the WWW has been pretty much claimed by marketing, the majority of other internet services are relatively true to their original designs. As for social lives - well, I met my wife on a MUD, and the majority of my close friends I've never met *shrug*. To each his own. =>


[ Parent ]

Correct... (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by theboz on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 04:05:43 PM EST

I agree with you. As far as the distinction I was attempting to make between bbs's and the internet, it is more of the fact that a bbs was purely for hobby. All the networks like fidonet and such were designed for fun and not for defense, commerce, advertising, or anything like that. People used the things almost purely for fun. The internet is different, and I think the fact that it is so commercialized diminishes the value of it. The web and IRC in particular, are full of garbage. There are interesting things to see on the www, but those are few and far between. As far as IRC, it's not all that interesting to me anymore. It's too crowded and there are too many idiots trying out DDoS attacks and such.

Also, I have a number of friends I met on the internet as well. I must admit that it was a lot better a few years ago than it is now. Anyways, I met my girlfriend who is soon to be a fiancee (when I can save up enough money for the ring) from a friend on the internet. I think the bbs influence for me is that if I have a friend on the internet, I prefer to meet them in real life. I make decent money right now and like to travel so I imagine I'll get to meet some of the people from bikkel.com that I am friends with when I go to Europe, and of course I have met some people in Mexico that are pretty cool. A lot of the people I've talked to from the U.S. are total nutcases though, so the people closest to me I don't want to go visit.

[ Parent ]

BBS community (none / 0) (#18)
by jasonab on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 05:29:37 PM EST

I'm about to agree with you. Be afraid. :-)

The thing I miss most is the SysOp community. I ran a user BBS for a couple of years, then ran a Fidonet mail-only hub for the next four. Being a part of the net leadership was a great experience as a teen, because it pushed responsibility on me that I wouldn't have otherwise had. Hopefully, I made a good impression on those around me in the process. Wow, FrontDoor and TosScan, with a little QuickBBS/RA running behind. Good stuff.

1:116/4, 1:116/6000

America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
[ Parent ]
Storyboarding (5.00 / 2) (#7)
by tailchaser on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 01:42:13 PM EST

Oh man, I loved loved storyboarding! Most of the ones I frequented tended to devolve into silliness at some point or another, but they were still one of the things that chewed up most of my time once I got home from high school (after Tradewars ;p).

If you haven't heard of or seen storyboards before, yes, they're a collaborative writing system. In a nutshell, you'd create a character, and then post that character's actions and point of view on a message board. The general rule was that your character could do absolutely anything you wanted that didn't assume an action on a part of another character, so you could say that you swing a sword at someone, but you can't say you *hit* them with the sword.

The admin of the board would typically set the world up, give a basic starting environment, and leave the plot to evolve on its own from there. Some stories went for a day or two, and some would continue on and grow for months.

I played around with the thought of creating a storyboard on one MUD I've played for years, but never got around to it; work and Everquest ended up eating most of my time away. ;> Maybe I'll go back to it and start it up after all.


Could work... (none / 0) (#11)
by Karmakaze on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 02:55:50 PM EST

I played around with the thought of creating a storyboard on one MUD I've played for years, but never got around to it; work and Everquest ended up eating most of my time away. ;> Maybe I'll go back to it and start it up after all.

The trick is to find a core group of writers who will stick with it. Too few, and nothing ever happens.

We got the guestbook thing to work okay, although I'd bet some of the weblog setups available now would work even better.

[ Parent ]
soc.culture.electric-midget (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by error 404 on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 03:35:25 PM EST

There was once a newsgroup by that name, or something very like it.

Brilliant. It was a window on the conflict (mostly) between Bill O'Neil and the Electric Midgets. The Midgets couldn't come close to spelling, and each side did their level best to obliterate the other, writing threats and counter-threats and accounts of battles to each other, and helpful hints to their teammates.

I really miss that newsgroup...
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

This sounds pretty cool (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by jdtux on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 05:09:31 PM EST

I got into computers around the 386 era, but only got my own computer with the net around 1998. Those BBSs sound really cool and interesting.

So let me get this straight, I'd say, start off the story, and then someone continues it on? kinda like a one word per person story?

Not quite it... (none / 0) (#19)
by Karmakaze on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 07:30:27 PM EST

I got into computers around the 386 era, but only got my own computer with the net around 1998. Those BBSs sound really cool and interesting.

I remember when my explainations of my hobbies had to start with... "you see, there's a little box called a 'modem' that connects to a phone line and lets my computer talk to another computer..."

So let me get this straight, I'd say, start off the story, and then someone continues it on? kinda like a one word per person story?

Not quite... what you just described is usually called a "round robin". A Round Robin usually has few rules beyond "try not to too badly contradict everything that went before."

With storyboards, you had a character, which was wholly yours. Other writers could not write for your character (move, put words in his mouth, etc) without your express permission. You wrote only your character's scenes in the story. Sometimes there were communal characters that everyone could affect, but otherwise, you only wrote about your character.

The big thing that made it different from a text rpg was that nobody was "running" the story. There were usually a few dominant writers, and the more experienced ones would write villainous characters to advance the plot, but that was it. You can follow some of the links in the article to see examples of how it worked.

BTW - please excuse any typos - I just applied little plastic strips to my fingernails with crazy glue and I'm a bit clumsy with them yet.

[ Parent ]
Round Robins - SSH vs. Telnet? (none / 0) (#28)
by anonymoushero on Sun Feb 11, 2001 at 11:43:06 PM EST

RRs defined here again:


More Chaos later.

[ Parent ]
Sorry.. (none / 0) (#17)
by jdtux on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 05:25:09 PM EST

about the double post.

Anyhow, that archived one, about the boot to the head thing, is just about the exact same thing I heard on CBC a few years ago.

Boot to the head, nyah nyah (2.00 / 1) (#20)
by Daemosthenes on Fri Feb 09, 2001 at 09:20:01 PM EST

Anyhow, that archived one, about the boot to the head thing, is just about the exact same thing I heard on CBC a few years ago.

The reason for this is the fact that the "Boot to the Head" sketch is not an original work of fiction by the author listed. It is actually a sketch done by a group called the Frantics. They were/are Canadian, I believe, and a simple search on Gnapster will turn up this sketch. Also, try looking for the more well known (and in my opinion better) "Tai Kwan Leap" boot to the head sketch. Both are very funny, and I would highly recommend you listen to them personally.

[ Parent ]
yeah (2.00 / 1) (#25)
by jdtux on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 10:50:11 AM EST

I've got the ta kwan leap one already. I just never thought that they'd take it from the net.

[ Parent ]
Any telnet accessable BBS's out there? (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by GiTm on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 02:48:47 AM EST

I would have though by now that there would be Telnet accessable BBS's available on the broader internet - given the amount of nostalgia and fondness for the original systems it would make sense that some of the original BBS systems were redeveloped for TCP rather than dialup access.

Anyone know of any?
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
Should have checked first (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by GiTm on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 02:57:13 AM EST

I posted too quickly, a quick google came up with http://www.thedirectory.org/telnet/ as an index of telnet BBS's.

Now the question is - can anyone recomend a system with a good example of a storyboard?
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
[ Parent ]
A couple (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by dneas on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 09:19:36 AM EST

The scene is still alive although it is a lot, lot lot smaller than it ever has been. Late last year i was frequenting inso, which you can telnet at inso.darktech.org. It is a very good board, full of nice msgers and some active games. However, the latter tends to be a problem on modern boards - all the users ever do is play on L0rd or similar. Still, it's a nice atmosphere.

If you do go on it, say deans sent you. Not that I get miles for saying that, but it be nice 4 them to hear from me.
-- "The car is on fire, and there's no driver at the wheel." Cut out the spam block if you need to email about something.
[ Parent ]
Well.. there is one. (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by Quar on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 08:47:21 AM EST

There is one BBS that I know of that actually does have an on going storyboard. Its the Isca BBS, forum 29. I dont know how often it actually changes topics, but they are currently doing stories on Vampires.

In fact, looking thru there it seems to hold to all the rules mentioned already here, so this maybe what everyone is looking for.

Just thought I would throw this out for anyone who wants it.

[ Parent ]

Sure... (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by nstenz on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 01:23:29 PM EST

Someone I know just brought a Galacticomm Worldgroup BBS back online - he's calling it NeoBBS, and you can get to it by telnetting to bbs1.2y.net. Use a telnet client that speaks ANSI graphics if you want it to be semi-not-ugly. It just came online, and the graphics haven't really been worked on yet, but it's useable.

The guy who's running it bought the stuff from Online Fond du Lac when it wasn't worth the expense to the former owner. I was Co-Sysop of a similar Worldgroup BBS a few years back as well... They're incredibly easy to work with, and I much prefer them to other systems. They support all kinds of fun plug-ins and stuff, and Teleconference Trivia is just plain addictive. I made a lot of friends there and met pretty much all of them (most of us lived in the same area). If you decide to check the place out, I'm 'Assassin'.

Oh yeah... Worldgroup on NT also includes a mail and web server, and there's a Windows interface to the BBS available with ANSI windows embedded for non-supported stuff (kinda like how Compuserve used to be). Somehow I don't think the DOS-only version had the servers. =)

Come visit... write me mail... chat with me if I'm online.

[ Parent ]
Nothing like replying to myself... (none / 0) (#32)
by nstenz on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 01:37:08 PM EST

Since there's currently no Storyboard forum (just poetry, tech, and Q&A at present), you may way to write the Sysop if you decide to visit and tell him to add one. =) We've had one on this system before, and it worked fairly well. It was certainly interesting.

[ Parent ]
FIX (none / 0) (#33)
by Radagast on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 04:59:58 PM EST

telnet fix.no

Hosted in Norway, it's been around since the early nineties, with pretty consistent traffic since then. Even though most of the users are Norwegian, there are a fair number of international users, and most conversation is in English. There's IRC-style chat as well as message boards, and no doorgames, etc. We used to do storyboarding stuff there (in Norwegian) back in 1995 or thereabouts, but there weren't enough people around. We'd be open to people doing it again if there was interest, though. The community is good, anyhow, and there's a stated interest in being different from Usenet/IRC, in particular in that most people write proper English, etc.

[ Parent ]
You just have to look in the right places (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by vasi on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 03:13:42 AM EST

I just wanted to point out that storyboards are still around, if you know where to look. There are two places where I've noticed storyboards lately, completely by chance.

First, is my school's BBS system. It's a bit of a pilot program, with about 500+ of the 9000 students using it, and there's a "Writersville" conference where some of us did some storyboarding for a few weeks.

Second, is Ambrosia Software's Ultimate BB. I know UBB isn't the greatest system, but ASW (maker of some really nice Mac arcade games) has some forums which are very active. One long thread, the Unnamed Bar, is a pretty nice storyboard.

So there ya go, enjoy! (or even go find your own...)


BBS Meme Dead Pool (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by zephiros on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 02:49:11 PM EST

I used to run a BBS, back when ANSI art was the cutting edge of online media production (go ACiD!). As I recall, there were a handful of items that were pretty much key to keeping the user base coming back. Topical discussion and file downloads appear to have survived the transition to the 'net pretty much intact. If anything, the larger audience has resulted in more byzantine and obscure topical discussion than was possible on local BBSs. War boards and door games seem to have fused into the current ladder/tournament/clan communities for online games. Evidently each new generation of adolescents hears the siren song of name calling and cheezy posturing, regardless of the specifics of the forum. For sale boards? Ebay.

To be honest, I can't think of a current incarnation of the storyboard, though. I suppose, to some degree, MMPOGs and fanfics offer the same sort of online-RPG experience that characterized many storyboards. OTOH, the "writing experiment" style 'boards have pretty much disappeared. I suppose, to some degree, this is a function of the anonymous nature of the 'net. In the BBS world, people who were needlessly rude were given the boot. Since there were only so many local systems, the online ne'er-do-well could, at most, disrupt a few dozen discussions before running out of targets.

I'm reminded of horror stories of MUSH llamas terrorizing newbies with @emits (TinyMUSH vets can skip to the next para). Anyway, TinyMUSH code allowed players to, essentially, generate a line of text on the screen of everyone in the room. By default, users couldn't tell the difference between an @emit line and an actual player action. Thus, I could @emit "Grignr humps Lothlorien's leg furiously," and most players would assume Grignr had actually typed this action.

Creation is an intensely personal experience, especially when one is dealing one's "online avatar." I suspect many people are simply hesitant to invest any commitment into art that can be defaced by the first online vandal to happen across it. I think, in some ways, the ultra-populist nature of the 'net actually limits open and free expression. The idea of a storyboard is right in the center of this problem; on the one hand, if you let anyone post, you risk a horrible signal-to-noise ratio. On the other, one of the strengths of a 'board was that new people could show up with interesting ideas. Maybe this is another opportunity for the community-by-moderation paradigm.
Kuro5hin is full of mostly freaks and hostile lunatics - KTB

Hmm. StoryCVS? (5.00 / 2) (#27)
by zephiros on Sat Feb 10, 2001 at 03:59:56 PM EST

So I'm thinking about this problem in the shower, which seems to be where most creative though takes place, and it occurs to me that perhaps the storyboard process needs new tools. Rather than simply using these tools to make storyboarding feasible again, perhaps it's possible to take the genre to a new level. To do this, you'd need a couple basic features, most of which are already being used elsewhere. Throughout the feature list, I'll be using the Iliad as an example, as most people are passingly familiar with it.

1. Plot-based Forking
Well, duh. This is pretty much the core of the system. Using enforced forks would ensure continuity, at the cost of occasionally leaving a really good submission on a dead branch. A simple moderation system could be used to determine which set of branches would constitute the canonical version of the story. Casual readers could run through the official version, interested readers can explore some of the alternate possibilities people have written. Really bad forks (involving, say, Yoda and a bong) could simply be moderated off the tree altogether.

2. No Moderation Cap
Let's say the current working version of the Iliad concluded with the dynamic duo of Achilles and Patroklos beating down Hector and walking away in triumph. Everyone is pretty happy with it, and it gets really highly moderated to protect the integrity of the story. Well, suppose some upstart shows up with the notion of Achilles' sidekick getting killed, and Achilles doing the bloody vengeance thing. And everyone decides this is a top notch idea. There needs to be a way to insure a story can be changed, no matter how much we liked the first version.

3. Some sort of Karma System
Another obvious one. The opinions of respected critics and authors would have more weight than some random new user. This protects the system from someone registering 500 new accounts in order to pump up their new fork.

4. Character-based Referencing
Let's say we want to know what happened to wily old Odysseus. Or poor Iphegenia, or scheming Agamemnon. There should be a system to point us to forks based on those characters. If we prefer the canonical version, it should point us to the Odyssey, Iphegenia Among the Taurians, or the Oresteia. If we really hate Euripides, we can head off to read Iphegenia: Warrior Princess, or whatever.

5. Story-based Referencing
In the Odyssey, when Odysseus does his "I am Odysseus" speech, and basically recounts the Trojan war, it would be really great if the text included a link back to the canonical Iliad text. Likewise, Ovid's miniature recounting the war in Metamorphoses could be enhanced by a few references. Links could be moderated in both directions. I can imagine the authors of a very serious work wishing to pretend a certain clever satire didn't exist. A curious reader, though, should be able to hop from the main work to exceptional derivatives, regardless of whether the original authors like the offshoot.

I wonder how difficult it would be to modify Slash to do something like this.
Kuro5hin is full of mostly freaks and hostile lunatics - KTB
[ Parent ]

Storyboard's still exist (none / 0) (#29)
by mosch on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:59:57 AM EST

One solution I've seen used successfully for storyboards in this new world is to have open discussion groups, and if somebody has interesting thoughts and is a good community member, you invite them into a "secret", moderated, invite-only mailing list.

The obvious problem with this method being that it's hard as hell to find any storyboards, unless you're privy to the secret.

This relates to a topic I've been examining lately, as I try to figure out what I want to do with some domains I've purchased. I miss the days of the BBS, the incredible and unique cultures that existed in each community. I'd like to bring a piece of that into modern times, but it's hard to see how to do it effectively, without breaking it.

[ Parent ]
There's still a couple of good ones. (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by tunesmith on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 05:47:30 PM EST

Man, there are still some great places where you can go and collaboratively do some creative writing with other folks. In fact, I have one and I go crazy trying to figure out where to find more people to participate.

StorySprawl is my pet project and we have several stories that people are working on together. The writing quality is pretty good, also. There some fantasy, sci-fi, and a couple with really good dry douglas-adams type of humour like "Dreams Of Esterton", my personal favorite. Please come check it out.

We're even doing audio dramatizations of some of them (check my sig). If interest ever picks up, I'd probably be motivated to upgrade the whole site, seek publication, and implement a revenue-sharing model.

siffert at museworld dotty com

Yes, I have a blog.

Prodigy (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by cyclopatra on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 03:12:23 AM EST

Oh, Gawd, the storyboards! HELL yes I remember them, they're some of my fondest memories of my early adolescence. I was a regular on several threads on Prodigy* from around...oh, 1992-94 - created a couple that didn't go far, participated in some that became something a bit more. One in particular, a David Eddings group that was part bulletin-board/newsgroup/part storyboard, lasted through the days of Premium charges on the bulletin boards (we had a "secret" bulletin board: we all signed on to someone's extra account and sent email to nonexistent addresses. The email would bounce and voila! your posted message :P).

I finally had to stop visiting the boards because Prodigy had gone totally per-hour, and my father disconnected my modem, and then had a *very* stern talk with me about the Prodigy bill. I didn't even get to say goodbye *sniff* That same year I got a "real" ISP and discovered UseNet, which is still my favorite part of the 'net for reasons probably related to this.

Actually, I kept up a pen-pal correspondence with one of the members of that little community until my first year of university - (and 'Kring', if you read this, I know I'm the one who stopped writing; well, I never was a good correspondent by snail-mail! -'Ce'Nedra'). There's a sense of community you felt with the storyboards - the same sense of community I've felt on UseNet, in the "good" newsgroups.

Bring back the storyboards!


All your .sigs are belong to us.
remove mypants to email

Storyboarding (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by Tjekanefir on Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 11:27:29 PM EST

Heh. Well, as the friend of Karmakaze in question, I *would* like to point out that our storyboard ran for about three years and produced--I am not kidding--1800 pages of text before it croaked (due partly to my new baby, partly to another friend's new career). The storyboard I was on in high school only ran about a year and a half before another writer and I graduated and it died. I don't think a limited lifespan is something inherently new to the genre. The nature of the beast is that there'll be a very small core group of people driving the story forward, and if one or two of them vanish for one life-related reason or another, the board'll stall. Happened in the good old days, happens now. Anyway, our most recent storyboard ('95-'98, or thereabouts) was a lot of fun and produced a lot of creative synergy, and when my kid gets big enough for preschool I'd totally consider doing another one.

The (Dead) Art of the BBS Storyboard - A Nostalgia Trip | 35 comments (27 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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