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Of Dale and Its People

by on August 30, 2018

Please enjoy another lore-focused article from guest writer Vardaen! -Ian

Of the Founding of Dale

Dale from the One Ring RPG

With the arrival of our Wilds of Rhovanion box, we have seen a sudden bloom of “Dale Decks” and characters with the Dale trait. While the name of Dale is familiar to anyone who has read the books, what do we really know about Dale and its people?

During the time period of our beloved game, Dale has been rebuilt from rubble after its desolation by Smaug. Located in the north east of the Middle-earth map, Dale is nestled in the arms of the Lonely Mountain. A reader’s first introduction to Dale comes in the Hobbit, during the time of its long destruction.

There the river [Celduin, or River Running], after winding a wide loop over the valley of Dale, turned from the Mountain on its road to the Lake, flowing swift and noisily. Its bank was bare and rocky, tall and steep above the stream; and gazing out from it over the narrow water, foaming and splashing among many boulders, they could see in the wide valley shadowed by the Mountain’s arms the grey ruins of ancient houses, towers, and walls.

“There lies all that is left of Dale,” said Balin. “The mountain’s sides were green with woods and all the sheltered valley rich and pleasant in the days when the bells rang in that town.”
– The Hobbit, Ch 11, On the Doorstep


The city of Dale was founded in 2591 of the Third Age, which is 350 years before Smaug is finally killed by Bard the Bowman. Thorin is the source of this information in a conversation he has with Bilbo. He explains about the wandering of the dwarves and tells us this: “Anyway they grew immensely rich and famous, and my grandfather was King under the Mountain again and treated with great reverence by the mortal men, who lived to the South, and were gradually spreading up the Running River as far as the valley overshadowed by the Mountain. They built the merry town of Dale there in those days.“ – The Hobbit, Ch 1, An Unexpected Party.

So who were these men of the South that Thorin mentions? We know that the men in Wilderland are mostly of the same stock and akin to one another. During the First Age men wandered out of the East heading West toward Beleriand, but not all of them made the trip and it was at Greenwood the Great, or as it was later known as Mirkwood, that their people were first sundered.

The Men…were for the most part akin in race and language with the tall and mostly fair-haired people of the ‘House of Hador’, the most renowned and numerous of the Edain…. These Men, it seems, had come westward until faced by the Great Greenwood, and then had divided: some reaching the Anduin and passing thence northward up the Vales; some passing between the north-eaves of the Wood and the Ered Mithrin. Only a small part of this people, already very numerous and divided into many tribes, had then passed on into Eriador and so come at last to Beleriand.(1)

We lose track of these men who stay behind throughout the First Age and much of the Second Age but after many wars and far off events in Numenor in the Second Age we get a bit more about these men east of Great Greenwood. During the Third Age a long peace is had, where the Silvan Elves begin to grow again in population but are worried for the changing of the world. Men also grow in numbers during this time, especially the Free Men, which are those not under the rule of the Dúnedain from Arnor or Gondor or under the thrall of Sauron.

…were spreading southwards: mostly east of the Greenwood, though some were establishing themselves in the eaves of the forest and the grass­lands of the Vales of Anduin.(2)

All of these men, those in the Vale of Anduin on the west of the great forest, and those to the east of the forest were of some related kin which includes the Rohirrim, the Beornings, the Woodmen, and those of Lake-town and Dale but also those of the Kingdom of Rhovanion. To read a bit more about the Edain and men in general check out this article by Master of Lore here:

Yet we get the most information about who these men of the South were that eventually moved to Dale well before Thorin’s time. Around 1250 of the Third Age we can read about them out of the Appendix or from Unfinished Tales.

Rómendacil showed especial favour to Vidugavia, who had aided him in the war. He called himself King of Rhovanion, and was indeed the most powerful of the Northern princes, though his own realm lay between Greenwood and the River Celduin. In 1250 Rómendacil sent his son Valacar as an ambassador to dwell for a while with Vidugavia and make himself acquainted with the language, manners, and policies of the Northmen. But Valacar … grew to love the Northern lands and people, and he married Vidumavi, daughter of Vidugavia. … From this marriage came later the war of the Kin-strife.(3)

The Kin-strife is a time centered around the civil war in Gondor, and is an article in and of itself. Yet reading more about this leads one to believe that there was some mingling of the blood of Gondor with these Northmen, as well as perhaps even Dúnedain, for its said among the tales of the Kin-strife that, “Many gathered to him there [Rhovanion], both of the Northmen in the service of Gondor, and of the Dúnedain of the northern parts of the realm. For many of the latter had learned to esteem him, and many more came to hate his usurper.” (4)

“Wanderers” – by Merlikir a piece for The One Ring RPG

By the year 1856 the Kingdom of Rhovanion is no more, these men suffer greatly  first at the hands of the Usurper Castamir in Gondor, then by Plague, then by constant invasion by Easterlings and Wainriders. According to one account few of these men eventually fled over the Celduin River and were merged with the folk of those lands, some took refuge in Gondor, and others, passing north between the Forest and the Great River Anduin settled in the vales there, our eventual Rohirrim. What was left of the Rhovanion people that didn’t escape “were reduced to servitude, and all their former lands were occupied by the Wainriders.”


We don’t hear again from any of these people for a near on 700 years when those west of the now named Mirkwood ride down out of the Vales of Anduin to the aid of Gondor under Eorl. Yet tales of Dale or Esgaroth are silent save for what Thorin had already told us about Dale’s founding in 2591.

So in short who are these men then? They are Edain, of the House of Hador, mingled with Men and Dúnedain of Gondor. They are kin of the Rohirrim and the Woodmen & Beornings to the west. They are the last remains of a great kingdom that stretched from Greenwood the Great to the Sea of Rhun, from the Celduin River to the northern boarders of Gondor near the Emyn Muil. So while this may tell us about their history, what else do we know about their culture?

Of Life in Dale

The men of Dale and Lake-town were once fabulously wealthy, due mostly in part to the riches of Erebor while the King Under the Mountain ruled. That fell away during the time of Smaug’s occupation of the Lonely Mountain. Yet even when the dragon sat inside the mountain the men of Lake-town continued to brave their homes and lived and worked within that shadow.

“They still throve on the trade that came up the great river from the South and was carted past the falls to their town; but in the great days of old, when Dale in the North was rich and prosperous, they had been wealthy and powerful, and there had been fleets of boats on the waters, and some were filled with gold and some with warriors in armour, and there had been wars and deeds which were now only a legend. The rotting piles of a greater town could still be seen along the shores when the waters sank in a drought.”(5)

Trade Flourishes in Dale

In the days of the dwarf kings it was Dale and Lake-town that supplied the dwarves with food and goods that the dwarves had no desire to make. Thorin it is again that tells Blibo all about the trade from Erebor to Dale and the men south of the mountain. Saying that kings used to send their sons to learn from their smiths, and would pay them handsomely, especially in food-supplies, ”which we never bothered to grow or find for ourselves.“ Perhaps the most famous of that food in later days was Cram, a biscuititsh food that keeps good for a very long time and that’s “very uninteresting except as a chewing exercise “, or in the case of the card game for readying a hero. We even get to see a dwarf ‘enjoying’ the mannish food on our card.

Dwalin ‘enjoying’ Cram

We learn too that from the mountain came many wonders, armor and weapons of course but other things such as “the most marvellous and magical toys, the like of which is not to be found in the world now-a-days. So my grandfather’s halls became full of armour and jewels and carvings and cups, and the toy-market of Dale was the wonder of the North.” (6) Life in Dale and surrounding lands was full of trade North, South, West and even East. That land was the hub for all manner of goods going out of Erebor, with food and drink going both up to the dwarves but also west into the Woodland Realm of the elves. For the elves had a passion for Dorwinion wine, a heady and very potent wine from the great gardens of the area near the Sea of Rhûn. Galion our newest Silvan ally is rather fond of the stuff, a bit too much luckily for Blibo and Thorin’s company.

Thranduil’s Butler

Beyond the simple trade of every day goods of food, drink, maps, and toys are those items of a more wondrous nature. We have already seen cards like the Necklace of Girion which was made of five hundred emeralds, a rather hefty sum, even for the King of Dale, given to the dwarves in trade for a coat of dwarf-linked mail made of mithril silver for his eldest son. Everyone is familiar with Bilbo’s mithril coat, but it’s unclear where the mithril came from for the crafting of his or Girion’s armor. For while there is mention of mithril being on the isle of Númenor, Gandalf tells us that Moria “alone in the world” is where it is found. Perhaps there was mithril in Erebor once, or in other places, or simply it was traded from Moria in better days to Dale and Gondor.(7)

The Necklace of Girion by Audrey Corman

As a center of trade for all manner of goods, we can see why Dale cards are centered around item attachments. In many places the texts tell us that this trade makes even the most common person wealthy, and so our allies and heroes gaining all sorts of stat bonuses from attachments fits.


Hobbit Tales: Guarded Hoard by Merlkir

Of the Rulers of Dale

Lastly with our venture into Dale is the confusion of character names. In a game where we have multiple version of the same character (Aragorn I’m looking at your 6 versions!) it can get even more confusing when you have multiple characters with the same or similar name. We get Bard the Bowman with the Hobbit Sagas who bears the Esgaroth trait but not the Dale trait even though he eventually rebuilds that city. We also had an early version of tactics Brand, with that great art! We now have a new Brand, and a Bard II, but still lack any version of Bain who ruled Dale for 30 years.

So who were these men? Bard the Bowman of course was the man that slew Smaug and reclaimed his birthright of Dale. He led the men of Lake-town to claim their share of the dragon horde and when the orcs attacked he led his men in the Battle of Five Armies. He even shared part of his newly claimed wealth with the Master of Lake-town, who eventually just stole it and ran off into the wilds and died, but more impressive is the fact that Bard gave Thranduil the emeralds of Girion, all 500 of them!

His son Bain ruled next for 30 years and extended the realm far to the south and east as Esgaroth once more into the lands of Rhovanion. We don’t have a card for him at this point, but perhaps we might see one eventually.

Brand, Bain’s son became the next King of Dale, and it is his art we even see on the title attachment with the same name. It was Brand who was king during the War of the Ring and battled Sauron’s forces when they crossed the River Carnen. He was slain in the battle alongside Dain II Ironfoot during the Battle of Dale.

Bard II is our last known ruler of Dale and fought alongside Thorin III Stonehelm breaking the siege of Erebor once news of Sauron’s defeat reached the north during the War of the Ring.

Girion and Bain Art by U-yasuk

Of the Language of Dale

No inspection of Middle-earth is complete without a look at Tolkien’s language for the people in question. The Language of the Bardings is closely tied to that of all the people of Rhovanion from their common history.

Their languages were, therefore, related to the Adûnaic, and some still preserved a likeness to the Common Speech. Of this kind were the peoples of the upper vales of Anduin: the Beornings, and the Woodmen of Western Mirkwood; and further north and east the Men of the Long Lake and of Dale. From the lands between the Gladden and the Carrock came the folk that were known in Gondor as the Rohirrim, Masters of Horses. They still spoke their ancestral tongue, and gave new names in it to nearly all the places in their new country: and they called themselves the Eorlings, or the Men of the Riddermark. But the lords of that people used the Common Speech freely, and spoke it nobly after the manner of their allies in Gondor; for in Gondor whence it came the Westron kept still a more gracious and antique style.(8)

It was their language that the dwarves of Erebor took to using among the outside world keeping their own Khuzdul secret. More interesting however is the ability of the Bardings, those men of Dale named so after King Bard, is the ability to speak with birds! We see this only in the Hobbit, where Thorin tells Bilbo about it and again when Bard himself has the old thrush perch on his shoulder and tell him about Smaug much to his own surprise: ” Marvelling, he found he could understand its tongue, for he was of the race of Dale.”

Said Thorin [Oakenshield the Dwarf], “The thrushes are good and friendly — this is a very old bird indeed, and is maybe the last left of the ancient breed that used to live about here … a couple of hundreds years or more ago. The Men of Dale used to have the trick of understanding their language, and used them for messengers to fly to the Men of the Lake and elsewhere.” (9)

A simple form of the Cirith was used for writing, which we have the pleasure to see on Thorin’s map in the hobbit. The name styles and the writing are all based on Old Norse in keeping with the Old English relation to the Rohirrim and Westron.

Thorin’s Map of Erebor

In conclusion this turned out to be a much longer article than first anticipated. It seemed at first that there wasn’t much in the way of Dale from the legendarium, but some digging quickly turned up a great source for inspiration for our beloved card game. All in all I think the feel and theme of the cards seem to match what information we have. There is more to mine here as well, and I look forward to seeing what other Dale cards come out in the future.



1 – The Peoples of Middle-Earth, HoME Vol 12, Part 2, Ch 10, Of Dwarves and Men: Relations of the             Longbeard Dwarves and Men

2 – Unfinished Tales, Part 2, Ch 4, Appendix B, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn: The Sindarin Princes                 of the Silvan Elves

3 – The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Gondor and the Heirs of          Anárion

4 – The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Gondor and the Heirs of          Anárion

5 – The Hobbit, Ch 10, A Warm Welcome

6 – The Hobbit, Ch 1, An Unexpected Party

7 – Interesting fact that the Guards at the Gate in Gondor had mithril helms, and King Elessar had the        gates of Minas Tirith wrought of mithril after his coronation. – The Return of the King

8 – The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix F, The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age: Of Men

9 – The Hobbit, Ch 12, Inside Information


About the Author: Vardaen is a long time gamer, both of RPGs, and LotR the Card Game. He’s been around since the game first launched as a fan of the game, of COTR and the Grey Company Podcasts, a Scrub of Discord, you can find his custom scenarios on OCTGN including a Drake Hunting one that takes place in the Withered Heath of Wilderland! Or check him out on his RPG site

From → Lore

  1. Devaresh permalink

    Great write up! I knew I had to bump it up to the top of my reading list and was not disappointed!

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