A Different Kind of 1e

Howdy folks. Despite my self-imposed half-exile from the blogosphere for a few weeks while I sort out the next issue of Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, I thought I'd drop in to give you a bit of a progress update. Things are coming along nicely and if I didn't know better, I'd say I was nearly ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, I know better, so I'm not about to make pronouncements that my ass can't cash. Now there's a finely-blended metaphor for you.

However, I can't let well enough alone, so here's an idea that I've been thinking about since I heard it. I'm pretty sure it was +Jerry Durante who first suggested this, but here's a thought that makes an awful lot of sense to me:

Any adventurer should be able to do anything that a Boy Scout can.

That makes sense. All adventurers are expected to tromp across various wildernesses and spend ridiculous amounts of time with limited supplies in cramped and dangerous underground crazy places. One might begin to expect a certain degree of competence at general sorts of useful things just to survive such experiences. You just might. I know I do.

So, I started to think about exactly what it is that Boy Scouts get trained to do. I myself never got past Webelos (which is kind of a shame; I dig all the stuff the Boy Scouts do, just not some of the core tenets or failures in leadership that the organization has experienced), and it's on its way to three decades since those days for me, so it's time to hit the books for some research.

And for our research, I decided that it's best to go for the original. Yes, just as we old-schoolers love to consult 1e or OD&D (or some iteration of Basic) as the ursprung of all knowledge, I've decided that it's best to head back to 1911 for the Boy Scout Handbook's own 1e. Really, the reason I went back this far is I wasn't really sure where I should stop. Is there a definitive edition? Is there a preferred one? Rather than start a completely different set of edition wars, I figure it's safe to just crack the pages of the first edition.

According to the 1e Handbook, there are three ranks of Boy Scout: Life Scout, Star Scout and Eagle Scout. Attaining a new rank is a function of earning enough qualifying Merit Badges, which are a sort of certification (expressed in the form of a patch given to the person who earns it that is worn on his uniform) expressing a degree of competence or proficiency in a particular field. I'm not sure if this overall Life/Star/Eagle Scout structure is still in effect (I presume there are still Eagle Scouts, what with that idea still being firmly within the public consciousness).

To attain the rank of Life Scout, a scout is expected to earn the following five Merit Badges: first aid, athletics, life-saving, personal health and public health. The Star Scout  rank is gained by accomplishing an additional five Merit Badges, and the reason that we as lay people recognize the Eagle Scout as a thing is that the Eagle Scout earns at least 21 Merit Badges in order to be called that. Some of the skills that you can earn Merit Badges for -- even in 1911 -- aren't exactly applicable to your typical D&D setting, but let's take a look at the rest of the badges and what sort of proficiency they imply. (I'll list all the badges, but put the ones that I don't think would apply in most settings in [brackets].)
  1. Agriculture - You know how to plant and cultivate crops and have done so.
  2. Angling - You have caught at least ten different species of fish and can make your own tackle if needed.
  3. Archery - You know how to make your own bow & arrows, meet certain accuracy benchmarks and can "shoot so far and fast as to have six arrows in the air at once." 
  4. Architecture - You can design unique plans for a building, have done so, and understand the history of architecture.
  5. Art - You have demonstrated your ability to create original artistic works and re-create classic ones
  6. Astronomy - You have demonstrable knowledge of the heavenly bodies and their movements
  7. Athletics - Not merely physical competence, but also the ability to enact and articulate methods of training for such
  8. [Automobiling - I love that this is called "automobiling."]
  9. [Aviation]
  10. Bee Farming - You have practical knowledge of apiculture and probably know more than I thought there was to know about honey
  11. Blacksmithing - You know how to use a forge, shoe a horse with shoes you made and can temper iron & steel.
  12. Bugling - Yup. You can bugle the generally accepted traditional bugle calls. 
  13. Business - You know the principles of buying and selling, can do bookkeeping and even understand a thing or two about finance.
  14. Camping - You've spent at least 50 nights outdoors, can set up a campsite with adequate latrines and even build your own raft.
  15. Carpentry - You know how to use a variety of wood working tools correctly and have made your own furniture.
  16. [Chemistry - You might able to shift this one to alchemy in some regards.]
  17. Civics - You know how your government works, which is a bigger deal than it sounds. Interestingly enough, the original version of the badge prominently features a fasces, which, about twenty years later, would become infamous due to its association with Moussolini's Fascist party. The more you know, am I right?
  18. Conservation - This badge represents knowledge of the natural resources in your environment and best practices to ensure their long-term sustainability.
  19. Cooking - You have proven your ability to build a fire and fireplace (!) and to cook beyond basic proficiency in the open.
  20. Craftsmanship - You have planned and built an article of furniture
  21. [Cycling]
  22. Dairying - You can manage cattle, milk them and have managed at least five cows for ten days each.
  23. [Electricity]
  24. Firemanship - All that cool stuff that firemen get to do.
  25. First Aid - How to treat basic injuries and illnesses, and even some basic poison identification and rudimentary resuscitation techniques.
  26. First Aid To Animals: You can identify and treat common illnesses and injuries to animals.
  27. Forestry - You can identify different trees and shrubs and know what they can be used for.
  28. Gardening - You can identify, care for and have practical experience with growing vegetables and flowers.
  29. Handicraft - You can repair and make various household features and items. 
  30. Horsemanship - More than just riding a horse, you can also care for them and determine health and value.
  31. Interpreting - You can conversationally read and write another language and have done some translation work.
  32. [Invention - You might be able to make this one make sense, but it's not very likely.]
  33. Leatherworking - You can tan & cure leather as well as repair and make basic leather goods.
  34. Life Saving - You can swim and have basic knowledge on how to save drowning people.
  35. [Machinery] 
  36. [Marksmanship - Applies to rifles.]
  37. Masonry - You know how to use stoneworking tools and have done so to make a stone oven and at least one wall. 
  38. Mining - You have an understanding of geology and methods used in mining.
  39. Music - You can read and play music on at least on instrument.
  40. Ornithology - You can identify birds and their nesting and other behaviors.
  41. Painting - You can make your own paints and use them as well as other basic finishing skills.
  42. Pathfinding - You know your surroundings and can map them.
  43. Personal Health - Yep. You know how to eat healthily and take care of yourself. 
  44. [Photography]
  45. Pioneering - You can tie knots, fell trees and build basic structures. 
  46. [Plumbing]
  47. Poultry Farming - Chickens! You have raised, cared for killed and dressed them.
  48. [Printing]
  49. Public Health - You understand how diseases are spread and effective methods for containing them and promoting the public health. 
  50. Sculpture - You have demonstrated your ability to create models from nature and re-create other designs.
  51. Seamanship - You can work rope, navigate and work a boat. 
  52. Signalling - Semaphore, Morse code and other methods of transferring information. Smoke signals? That'd be cool.
  53. Stalking - Not as creepy as it sounds, more like basic hunting but without actually killing anything. Think Marty Stouffer. 
  54. Surveying - You can measure topography and geographical features and make accurate maps. 
  55. Swimming - You're pretty darn good at swimming.
  56. Taxidermy - Preferably not the creepy kind. Is there a not creepy kind?
So there you have it. That's the list of Merit Badges from the very first edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. Obviously not every adventurer is going to know how to do everything on this list, nor should every PC have a list of the Merit Badges he or she has. Rather, it should illustrate that adventurers should have an awful lot of knowledge about a lot of different stuff. You and I aren't adventurers (as far as I know), and while we might not have the specific sorts of knowledge mentioned here, our characters will need all sorts of crazy and off-the-wall knowledge (as well as some practical stuff, too) just to get by. The list of Merit Badges above is all stuff kids can master, so why would it be hard to believe that your PC can as well?