This post is designed to teach you everything you need to know about the world of The Witcher, so you can be prepared for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. If you've played the first two games, this may serve as a good reminder of the places and characters. If you're new to the series, this should give you a great start on understanding what is going on in Wild Hunt.
Spoiler warning: This story contains spoilers for The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and draws some information from the series of Witcher novels. The post does not contain any direct spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but the segment on The Witcher 2 is specifically tailored around the choices that you can make in the beginning of The Witcher 3 to set your world state.
Witchers are for-hire monster hunters who are mutated and trained during childhood to be significantly faster and more resilient than an average human. They also have the ability to use Signs, which are basic magic spells. They live much longer than otherwise possible, but are sterilized as part of the mutation.
Witchers became necessary after an event known as the "Conjunction of the Spheres" introduced monsters to the world. Monsters ran rampant, and Witchers were created as a defense against evil beasts. Because Witchers are mutated and considered inhuman, public opinion about them varies. A few romanticize their order, while many tolerate them as a necessary evil,. Others outright hate them.
The story of how Witchers were first created is lost to time, but Witcher schools, such as the school of the Wolf where the series' protagonist Geralt trained, were built to facilitate the process of mutating and training new Witchers. The novels reference three schools, the Wolf, the Cat and the Griffon. The school of the Viper is introduced in the games.
The Law of Surprise is an important custom in The Witcher's universe. When a person's life is saved, their savior might ask the debt be repaid by The Law of Surprise. The law states that the savior may request "that which you already have but do not know." This can have many different meanings, but most importantly it can mean that an unexpected child becomes bound to the person who invokes the law.
Because Witchers are sterile, they rely on abandoned orphans and the Law of Surprise to grow their ranks, and one instance in particular is especially meaningful. It is through the Law of Surprise that Ciri, a key character in The Witcher 3 became bound to Geralt, though it wasn't a very straightforward transaction.
In the world of The Witcher, sorcerers and sorceresses play a big role. They are immensely powerful magicians and, because of their power, are highly desired as advisors in politics.
Both men and women can wield magic in the fantasy universe, but many of the high profile magic users in The Witcher video games are women. Similar to Witchers, most magic users are sterilized by their use of magic.
The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski are the basis for the universe and characters featured in the games, but chronologically the story told in the books takes place before the events of the first game. The first game opens with Geralt suffering from amnesia, so he remembers none of the events that happen during the novels.
Geralt of Rivia is the protagonist of The Witcher video games. As a child, his mother abandoned him at Kaer Morhen, the Wolf school's fortress. He was subsequently mutated and trained as a Witcher. His white hair was a consequence of an exceptionally harsh phase of the mutation, and is not characteristic to all Witchers. Geralt's true age is not revealed in the games, but based on information in the novels that, he is probably around 100.
Geralt is not actually from Rivia, having no home other than Kaer Morhen, but his mentor Vesemir suggests he pick a homeland and accent to help with securing Witcher contracts.
Triss is a powerful sorceress and a recurring character in the novels as well as the games. She is a friend and sometimes lover to Geralt. She serves as a main character and companion in the first two games.
Yennefer is another powerful sorceress and Geralt's primary love interest in the novels. She makes her first appearance in the first Witcher book, but The Witcher 3 will be the first time we see her in a game. She is, however, mentioned in earlier games, and as Geralt recovers from his amnesia, he begins to remember Yennefer.
Yennefer serves as a mother figure to Ciri in the novels and is a key figure in training Ciri to use her magical abilities.
Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, Ciri for short, is many things, but the most straightforward way to describe her would be as Geralt's adopted daughter. She was trained at Kaer Morhen as a Witcher, but never underwent any of the physiology-altering mutagens.
Revealing too much about Ciri would be a disservice to readers hoping to avoid Wild Hunt spoilers, but suffice it to say that Ciri is an extremely talented fighter and an even more powerful magic user. She is an incredibly important character in the universe of The Witcher.
Emhyr var Emreis is the emperor of Nilfgaard. Aside from being potentially the most powerful leader in the world, he also has a rich history with Geralt. He is a major character in the Witcher novels, but makes his first in-game appearance in The Witcher 3.
Dandelion is a lifelong friend to Geralt. He is a famous and roguish bard who follows Geralt to gather material for his songs, as Geralt is always getting into noteworthy adventures. He serves as a sort of narrator in the second game, and the in-game journal is written from his point of view.
Síle is a sorceress who plays a significant role in The Witcher 2. She aids Geralt in Act 1 by helping him slay the Kayran plaguing Flotsam. It is later discovered that she was a significant player in the plot to assassinate the Northern Kings, having cooperated with Letho, another Witcher that we discuss below. Depending on Geralt's choices in The Witcher 2, she may be dead.
Another powerful sorceress, Philippa Eilhart is one of the most important secondary characters in The Witcher 2, as well as a key player in the novels. She is considered to be the leader of the Lodge of Sorceresses.
Letho is a Witcher who has become a tool of both the Lodge of Sorceresses and the Nilfgaardian Empire. Both parties pay him to assassinate kings in the Northern Kingdoms to disrupt political stability in that region. He is a member of the defunct Viper school, which was located somewhere in Nilfgaard. Depending on Geralt's choices in The Witcher 2, he may be dead.
The land in which all of the lore takes place. The Continent contains the Northern Kingdoms and the Empire of Nilfgaard.
The Northern Kingdoms are a group of states in the northern part of The Continent. They are generally allied together against the Nilfgaardian Empire, though there is plenty of infighting and bickering. There are a number of major and minor kingdoms, provinces and regions, and during The Witcher 3, you'll find the Northern Kingdoms shrinking as Nilfgaardian forces invade from the south.
Generally seen as "The Bad Guys" in the Witcher novels and games (alongside all of the monsters, manipulative mages, racist kings and spectral murderous ghost elves), the Nilfgaardian empire is a powerful southern entity. While the Northern Kingdoms signed a peace agreement with Nilfgaard, the final cinematic of The Witcher 2 (as well as much of the marketing material for The Witcher 3) shows Nilfgaardian forces marching to war.
Kaer Morhen is the fortress for the Witcher School of the Wolf, the school Geralt belongs to. Much of the stronghold was destroyed when a group of people and mages who disagreed with the existence of Witchers laid siege to the fortress.
What follows are plot synopsis of the first two games designed to help you prepare for Wild Hunt without getting too deep into the breadth and plot complexity of the game. It will help you understand, as a new player, the decisions you'll be asked to recall in the third game because, early in The Witcher 3, you'll have a conversation where you answer questions about these decisions to properly set up the world.
The plot of the first game is generally self-contained within the broader storyline of the novels and games. During the game, Geralt of Rivia suffers from severe amnesia. While the amnesia trope is certainly cliché as a plot device for games, it helped CD Projekt Red begin its story without carrying too much baggage.
The events of the first game deal largely with a criminal organization called the Salamandra, and the game opens with this group stealing the mutagens used to create Witchers.
The driving motivation of the game is hunting down the Salamandra, but the scale expands to an epic quest that ends with Geralt killing Jacques de Aldersberg, a madman who intends to use the stolen Witcher mutagens to create a race of superhuman warriors.
There is little in the way of overlap between the first game and the rest of the series, but Geralt does encounter (and has the option to fight) a specter of the King of the Wild Hunt.
As the game ends, Geralt is receiving a reward for saving the day at King Foltest of Temeria's palace when an assassin makes an attempt on the king's life. Geralt successfully defends the king and the would-be assassin is shown to have the cat-like eyes of a Witcher.
The Witcher 2 is significantly more complex than the first game in terms of how it relates to the broader world. To briefly summarize, a number of kings in the Northern Kingdoms are assassinated in a Nilfgaardian plot to destabilize the region and weaken it for invasion. A number of sorceresses are also seeking to destabilize political power to build an organization that operates above the rule of kings and laws.
What follows is a more in-depth recap, specifically to help you understand the choices you'll be asked to recall in the beginning of The Witcher 3.
The second game opens with Geralt imprisoned and being interrogated by Vernon Roche, the head of The Blue Stripes, Temeria's secret service. The prologue proceeds as a frame story where Geralt recounts the events of a siege by Foltest. In a lover's quarrel, the king is endeavoring to take the castle of his mistress, Baroness Mary Louisa La Valette, with whom he has two children, Boussy and Anaïs.
After saving King Foltest's life at the end of the first game, Geralt becomes his body guard. While it isn't typically the nature of Witchers to involve themselves with kings or politics, Geralt is given little choice in the matter.
During the siege, Geralt encounters the Baroness' older son, Aryan La Valette. The player is given the choice to kill him or force him to surrender. This choice is reflected in the first stage-setting question you'll get in The Witcher 3. Live or die, he's a fairly insignificant character in The Witcher 2, so it's unclear what role this choice will play in the third game.
After the siege, Foltest is reunited with his children immediately before another assassination attempt is made. This time it succeeds. The assassin escapes and Geralt is caught in the chamber with the dead King Foltest by The Blue Stripes, effectively being framed for the king's murder.
During the interrogation, Roche believes Geralt's telling of the events and agrees to help him hunt down the assassin. Roche, Triss and Geralt embark up the Pontar River.
The next segment takes place in and around Flotsam, a small riverside town. Here, Geralt discovers that the assassin is Letho, a Witcher from a different school. After helping rid Flotsam of some monster trouble, Geralt encounters Letho for the first time. Letho escapes and kidnaps Triss.
At this point in the game, the Witcher will make a choice that defines the entire second act. Geralt can decide to side with Vernon Roche and the Blue Stripes, or align himself with the human-hating elf Iorveth and the Scoia'tael, a rebellious band of non-humans fighting for equality.
This is the second choice that you'll be asked to recall early in The Witcher 3.
If Geralt choses to side with Iorveth, he'll end up fighting alongside Saskia, a rebellion leader (and secretly a dragon disguised as a human) with whom the Scoia'tael are aligned. If he chooses to side with Roche, he'll fight on the side of King Henselt (yet another king in the Northern Kingdoms.) There is also a secondary plot where Geralt has the choice to save King Henselt, or let Roche kill him.
After this battle, the hunt for Letho continues and leads the Witcher to Loc Muinne, the final location in the game. The politics of the remainder of the game are complex, but can generally be distilled down to a few key points.
Many powerful mages have formed a sisterhood known as the Lodge of Sorceresses, a group designed to be above the rule of kings and politics, exerting their will as they see fit. Philippa Eilhart is a sorceress considered to be the leader of this Lodge. She was able to place Saskia under a powerful mind control spell, effectively giving the Lodge access to a dragon as a weapon.
If Geralt sided with Iorveth, he will have the option to rescue Philippa Eilhart from prison, which will later allow Geralt to free Saskia from the mind control, but this path comes at the cost of rescuing Triss. However, regardless of choice, Triss doesn't die.
If Geralt sided with Roche, he has the opportunity to rescue Foltest's daughter Anaïs instead of Saskia. Being the only remaining child of Foltest (Boussy having died off-screen earlier in the game), she is the only heir to the Temerian throne.
This is the third set of choices you'll be faced with in The Witcher 3.
The final segment of the game includes a political conclave where leaders and mages have come together to decide the fate of the Northern Kingdoms in the absence of Kings Foltest and Demavend (and, potentially, Henselt). The conclave is interrupted when Saskia, in dragon form and still under the control of Philippa Eilhart, attacks the summit.
As the dragon is attacking, Geralt encounters Síle de Tansarville looking to teleport away from Loc Muinne. Geralt, knowing that her teleportation device has been damaged and will kill her, has the option to warn her and save her life, or let her destroy herself in the attempt.
You'll be asked to recall this choice at the beginning of The Witcher 3.
After defeating the dragon, players who chose to rescue Philippa will have the option to release the dragon from the mind control.
After that, Geralt faces Letho in a final duel, but he also has the option to hear out his reasoning and let him go free.
Choosing whether or not to kill Letho is the final choice that you'll use to set the world state in the beginning of The Witcher 3.