Great thanks to Songweaver for compiling this and writing this in our forums, and everyone else who has contributed.
Q: What is Laketown?
A: Glad you asked!
Q: How Big is Laketown's Army?
A: What army? We know that Bard mustered about 2,000 soldiers for The Battle of Five Armies after Smaug's attack, but there's a lot to suggest that most of these "soldiers" were not professionals. In fact, it seems more likely that Laketown, being a Democratic City-State in the current setting (the ONLY known human Democracy in Middle-Earth at this time), would have held a smaller army. It also stands to reason that Bard's muster was desperate after Laketown's destruction (he was making a play for the dragon's loot). Though the full, untrained human army would quadruple the dwarvish army in size, several research papers suggest that prior to Bard's war-time muster, the Lakemen only had between 100-200 trained soldiers. They relied on the extremely defensible geography of their location to discourage attacks, and were likely somewhat protected by the realm of elves to their west as well.
Q: What is Utterby?
A: Good question! Look here for more information.
Not much of the local politics would be known to new characters, except for that Old Man Geriac and his son seem to make the decisions for Utterby.
Q: What are the closest known nearby settlements?
A: Well, there are canonical and non-canonical answers to this.
Non-canonically, for the purposes of our game, you can find out more about nearby settlements on our wiki.
Canonically, you have the ruined city of Dale close to the Lonely Mountain, destroyed long ago by Smaug. You also have the land of Dorwinion down the river to the southeast by the Sea of Rhun, which frequently traded its famous wine with Laketown and the elves; interesting to note in relation to Dorwinion is a long-termdebate between Tolkien experts about whether or not Dorwinion was a realm of Men, or of Elves. Additionally, you have the dwarves of the Iron Hills, which were a very noble line of dwarves known to trade with the Lakemen. Laketown existed very near to The Woodland Realm of Sindarin Elves; these elves were their strongest allies at this time. It's also possible that Laketown traded with Easterlings in time of peace, though it's just as likely that Laketown (and especially non-canonical outposts outside of Laketown) had to be wary of Easterling raids. Often over-looked, the history and influence of the Easterlings should definitely be considered.
Because the Lakemen were in close contact to so many different cultures (and likely saw refugees from some of those cultures), and there is no canonical evidence of them not trusting the nearby dwarves and elves (prior to the events that take place in 'The Hobbit'), it seems unlikely that the Men of the Dale were xenophobic.
Q: When Was the Kingdom of Dale Founded? Who Were its People?
A: This questions seems like it would have a simple answer, but Tolkien doesn't make it very easy for us to discern. While a unique and barbaric line of Northmen lived in the area for quite some time, the best research suggets that the actual city of Dale was founded between the years 2590 and 2600 in the Third Age. The Northmen who settled this area hailed from the far north, beyond the Grey Mountains. In the Second Age, Sauron had destroyed their culture prior to the War of the Elves and Sauron. In the Third Age, these nomadic people, unrelated directly to the Woodmen of Greenwood Forest (not yet called Mirkwood) or the Rhovanion peoples, began to settle south along the northern and eastern edges of the Greenwood Forest. They would suffer through several wars against the Easterling Wainriders and Balchoth, but would ultimately survive to eventually found the Kingdom of Dale.
But by the time that Dale was founded, their blood heritage would not likely have remained very pure at all. After all, they had lived in the Grey Mountains, in close proximity other tribes of Hill-Men, and come south near to the northron Woodmen of Greenwood Forest. They had found themselves in constant contact with several tribes of Easterlings (sometimes, in war), and would have cross-bred with the above races for thousands of years. Kingdom-less and locked into an isolated location geographically, they would also have been likely to have had refugees of the Rohirrim and even the Rangers of the North enter into their gene-pool over the course of the Second and Third Ages. Each of these early Dalish tribes settling along the Forest and Rivers' edges would have its own unique genetic code, and by the time they were unified as the Kingdom of Dale, their heritage would have been a veritable melting pot of other sub-species of Man.
There is narrative in The Hobbit that suggests that the Laketown that exists during that story is built upon the ruins of another town on the Lake. We do not know anything about that more specifically, though it does suggest that the area has been inhabited for quite a long time. Tolkien has given us clues, but few direct answers.
It seems likely that, based on geography and what we can infer about the Lakemen's culture, they would not care as much about their lineage as other regions of Men were wont to. They would simply be the Dalish (Men of the Dale) to the educated, or Lakemen to the masses. The Easterlings would seem starkly different to them, and it's likely that the Lakemen would think of them as nomadic savages with a very strange culture. These Lakemen had evolved culturally from their savage background, whereas the Easterling tribes had not.
Q: What Do We Know About the Lakemen?
A: Not a ton, but we can extrapolate. Positioned between more settled areas, with Mirkwood Forest on one side, and vast swathes of wilderness and mountains on the other sides, we don't know how the city-state of Dale came to be in much detail; most likely, it started as a melting pot for refugees of different tribes of men, including the local Northmen, Hill-men of the Grey Mountains and refugee Easterlings, unified by a Girion, a Northern Lord.
We do know that the Laketown of 'The Hobbit' was unique in that its people spoke a specific, archaic form of the Common Tongue related to Atliduk (the ancestral language of the Rohirrim). It was also unique in that it was a Democracy, with no monarch; the town thrived on trade with its neighbors and was steeped in local politics. Their method of trade was interesting and strange; they floated barrels of goods down the river as the hub between the elvish kingdom and the realm of Dorwinion. Surrounded by water and mountains, Laketown was extremely defensible; however, they could do little to manage the threat of Smaug. It was not uncommon for Smaug to attack Laketown, burn down a house or two, and carry off a maiden; this was a threat that all Lakemen would have been very aware of.
Most importantly, I think that Laketown's being a form of simple Democracy is key. To me, this suggests that the town was likely founded by refugees who had come to be opposed to monarchy. This, in turn, suggests to me that the Lakemen were likely fiercely independently-minded, culturally.
Mirkwood, Orcs, Wargs, Spiders and Dol Guldur
Q: Where Can I Learn More About Mirkwood Forest?
Q: Where Are the Nearby Orc Clans?
A: Vadok Mal is the current home of the nearby orc clans. Vadok Mal is the eastern-most mountain of the Mountains of Mirkwood.
This puts the orc tribes very close to Utterby, which lies near to the abandoned Old Forest Road and River Running.
Limited documentation has been made available about the specific orc tribes at Vadok Mal.
Q: What Have the Orcs Been Up To Recently?
A: We know that the tribes of Vadok Mal are being manipulated by the Necromancer, but likely through a proxy (or several proxies). They are charged with causing problems for the humans in and around Utterby.
Beyond that, we know but a few things. Azog, the long-time infamous leader of the orc of the Misty Mountains, was slain on the fields of battle over one-hundred years ago in the final conflict of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs. The Orcs fled back into their strongholds after the war, and the mantle of leadership was taken up by Azog's son, Bolg, who rules from the orcish capital at Mount Gundabad, near the ruins of Angmar in the Misty Mountains. This suggests that over the past one-hundred years, the orcs have laid mostly dormant in the Misty Mountains, and have likely only recently been called east by the machinations of the Necromancer.
Q: How Intelligent Are Wargs? What purpose do they serve?
A: Wargs are known to actually be quite intelligent, and even sentient. You can read some basic canonical information about them, though Wolfsong and Krelm have written in-depth non-canonical documentation to further describe their society for the purposes of our game. In short, the Wargs of this region are independent allies of the orcs and the Necromancer, and they are a feared threat to the Dalish settlers.
Q: How Intelligent are Great Spiders? What is their society like?
A: As with Wargs, we do know that Spiders are quite intelligent, though we don't learn much about their society. There is, however, plenty of evidence to suggest that they had one. You can read some interesting basic canonical information on them. I have also written more in-depth non-canonical documentation on Great Spiders for the purposes of our game. In short, they pose both a threat to orcs and to men in the region.
Q: What Is The Necromancer Up To in Dol Guldur?
A: Wouldn't you like to know? Well, we do know a little, and can imagine quite a lot more. There is a lot of evidence to support the idea that while the Necromancer grew in power at Dol Guldur, and moved his pawns about the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood Forest, he was also experimenting with creating dark, dangerous creatures.
We know that Giant Bats from Dol Guldur and Mirkwood allied with the goblins and wargs at least once in The Hobbit. There is a little evidence to suggest that the Giant Bats themselves were descendants of Vampires, which were lesser Maiar creatures of the First Age - much like the Balrogs. This could mean that Giant Bats in the Third Age had some level of sentience, though not necessarily.
There is also the mystery of the Mewlips to consider, which were believed to have been inhabiting Dol Guldur in the Third Age when the Necromancer took refuge there. The fate of these creatures is never described, but it seems likely that the Necromancer would have bent them to his purposes.
In truth, all manner of unknown evil could have been created in Dol Guldur. Of course, the average Lakeman, if they knew of Dol Guldur at all, would only know it as an evil place, haunted by ghosts and terrors of the night.