The events of the Hobbit occurred during the Third Age, in the year 2941. For reference, the events of the Lord of the Rings begin in the year 3018. Our game will begin twenty years before the events of the Hobbit, in 2921, allowing us a chance ourselves to experience the final years of Laketown and witness the events of the Hobbit itself, such as the Battle of 5 Armies, the crowning of the King Under the Mountain, the return of Dale, and the fall of Dol Guldur.
Let’s explore the region and recent events briefly, so that you have a firm grasp of the greater area within which our events will take place.
Erebor, a stronghold of the Dwarves, was taken over by Smaug in 2770. At the same time, the nearby city of Dale was abandoned due to the dragon’s presence. The region around Erebor is now known as the Desolation of Smaug, and is uninhabited by almost any living thing. Nothing significant has occurred in this region between 2770 and 2921, though there is some scholarly debate as to whether Smaug roamed the area at all during this time or simply slept. Most likely it is that Smaug periodically awakened and maintained his hold on the area, but that he was largely inactive.
To the east of Erebor are the Iron Hills, occupied by the Dwarves of Durin’s Folk. They are led by Dain II Ironfoot, son of Nain who was killed in battle with Orcs at the gates of Moria in 2799. Dain II is the Dwarflord who leads the Dwarven reinforcements at the Battle of 5 Armies later in 2941 and later becomes King Under the Mountain.
To the north of Erebor are the Grey Mountains, occupied and infested by orc and wyrm. These are entirely unsafe, though luckily far enough away that any real influence they might have over the region near Erebor is limited to the once-a-decade long-distance raid.
West of Erebor is, of course, Mirkwood. Going back further than one usually might, Mirkwood was ruled in the First and Second Ages by the Elves under Oropher. Then it was known as Greenwood the Great, and the elves held their capital at Amon Lanc, where now stands Dol Guldur. Oropher was slain during the final days of the Last Alliance in an ill-advised attack, and his son Tharanduil took over the realm. By this time, and indeed before the rise of Tharanduil, the elves had moved from their capital north. According to various sources, they moved three separate times, settling north of the Mountains of Mirkwood by the start of the Third Age. By the time we open, in 2921, the elves only occupy the forest north of the Forest River, in an area known as the Woodland Realm.
The rise of the Necromancer, who we know ourselves to be Sauron in disguise, occurred in 1050 during the Third Age at Dol Guldur far to the southwest of Erebor. From that point onward, Mirkwood darkened considerably. This is the sole source of the darkness in Mirkwood. The mere presence of a power like Sauron’s in the area has twisted and changed the forest for hundreds of miles, attracting orcs and wargs and spiders, amongst other dark beasts.
The Old Forest Road was built during either the First or Second Age by the Dwarves as a way to secure passage through the forest. Certainly it was used during the War of the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age. By our time, in TA 2921, the Old Forest Road, once a grand avenue through Mirkwood, has fallen into disrepair and even been lost in places. Orcs and goblins raid along it, and travelers that pass along it almost never make it to the other side.
The Mountains of Mirkwood are similarly a hive of orc and goblin, serving as the furthest constantly-occupied goblin outpost in the region. Dozens of independent tribes have established themselves in the area, as well as a number led by more nefarious forces.
Thus we come to Laketown itself, which is a shadow of its former self. A trading town with very few allies with which to trade, they are dependent on the waning and increasingly rare caravans and boats that come up the river laden with goods. Additional trade occurs between themselves and the elves, as well as with the dwarves of the Iron Hills, yet compared to the wealth of trade that once was present in Dale and Erebor, the region is a shadow of its former self.
Such is our story. We are telling the tale of the waning days of Man, Dwarf, and Elf in the Wilderland, a tale that would have continued uninterrupted had it not been for the efforts of a certain Wizard knocking on a burglars door some hundreds of miles away. The world has grown wild once more. Those who were once friends now look at each other with suspicion. The shadow of Smaug and the Necromancer rests heavily on all. The White Council tarries and does nothing. Soon, great powers will move in the world, but not quite yet.