The Witcher Lore Explained: Everything You Need to Know

Few fantasy worlds are as intricate and immersive as the Witcher. Between the books, comics, compendiums, and video games, there’s so much Witcher lore to lose yourself in that you might not know where to start. 

New to the wonderful world of the Witcher and feeling a little confused? Pour yourself a glass of Est Est and settle in for all the monsters and magic you can handle.

The Witcher games and show are based on a series of fantasy novels and short stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. We’ve combed through all the books (except Season of Storms, which I’m currently reading!) to bring you a primer on Witcher lore. 

We’ve done our best to avoid spoilers, but proceed with caution just in case. Our guide on Witcher lore will cover the basics of the Witcher world. 

The World

The Witcher takes place in a multiverse. Similar to multiverse theory in real life, the Witcher’s multiverse contains infinite universes and alternate realities.

The books focus on two worlds:

  • The Continent: Home to humans and the Elder Races (gnomes, dwarves, halflings, and Aen Seidhe elves).
  • The Aen Elle world: Home to Aen Elle elves. According to the Aen Elle king, the Aen Elle once lived on the Continent but then left for “another, more interesting universe.” Some Aen Elle elves, like Avallac’h, are Sages, who possess extraordinary magic power.

The Continent is divided by the Amell Mountains into two distinct regions: the Northern Kingdoms and Nilfgaard.

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A map of The Continent showing Nilfgaard and the Northern Kingdoms.

Northern Kingdoms

Also called the Northern Realms, the Northern Kingdoms comprise the territories located north of the Amell Mountains. These include:

  • Cintra
  • Aedirn
  • Lyria
  • Temeria
  • Redania
  • Cidaris
  • Hengfors League
  • Verden
  • Kaedwen
  • Kovir
  • Rivia
  • Poviss
  • Skellige

Humans created the Northern Kingdoms after seizing control of land inhabited by the Elder Races. Certain strongholds, like Mahakam, are mostly inhabited by the Elder Races.

The Northern Kingdoms are at war with the Nilfgaardian Empire, which seeks to conquer the North. The Nilfgaardian Empire’s attack on Cintra — which resulted in the death of Queen Calanthe (Ciri’s grandmother) — started the First Northern War in 1263.

Nilfgaardian Empire

The Nilfgaardian Empire is the most powerful kingdom on the Continent. Its territories are located south of the Amell Mountains.

Nilfgaard began as a mixed settlement of humans and elves. As the population grew, the city of Nilfgaard expanded into a kingdom, absorbing nearby territories. 

For centuries, Nilfgaard operated as a republic in which the kings were advised by a senate, which was later abolished.

During the books and games, Nilfgaard is ruled by Emperor Emhyr var Emreis. A cut-throat imperialist, Emhyr was the son of Fergus var Emreis, former Nilfgaardian king who was overthrown by a usurper in 1233.

We don’t want to give too much away about Emhyr here. For an in-depth look a  Nilfgaard’s origins and history, check out our article on Nilfgaard and Emhyr var Emreis.

Elder Races

The Elder Races refer to the species that inhabited the Continent before the humans arrived during the Conjunction of the Spheres. These include:

  • gnomes
  • dwarves
  • halflings
  • elves

In the books and games, the Elder Races and humans are constantly at war with one another, as well as fighting amongst themselves. The opening chapter of Blood of Elves establishes that each species mostly keeps to itself, showing little tolerance toward others.

Later in the book, a dwarven warrior and friend of Geralt named Yarpen Zigrin explains the Elder Races to Ciri. He tells her gnomes inhabited their world first, then dwarves, then halflings, then elves. 

He expresses some disdain toward elves, who he says “happen to be strangers just as much as you humans, although they arrived in their white ships a good thousand years before you.”

The Witchers

Witchers are monster slayers who have rudimentary magical powers. They travel the Continent killing monsters for coin.

Although more witcher schools exist in the games, three witcher schools exist in the books:

  • School of the Wolf (Geralt’s school, housed in Kaer Morhen)
  • School of the Cat
  • School of the Griffin

To become witchers, young boys must endure rigorous physical training and a dangerous witcher mutation process called the Trial of the Grasses

During the trials — which took place in a now-unused laboratory deep within the Kaer Morhen vaults — the boys were given magical elixirs, hormones, and herbs. 

The trials last roughly 7 days. If the boys survived, they’d emerge with cat-like witcher eyes, a longer lifespan, and sharp senses and reflexes.

In The Last Wish, Geralt comments that the trials turned his hair white. He also remarks that he “took the changes unusually well.” So well that he was the only survivor of his group.

The witcher trade is dying — no one knows how to use the laboratory or brew the potions needed for the Trial of the Grasses anymore.

Aside from Geralt, four other witchers are mentioned in the books: Vesemir, Lambert, Eskel, and Coën. (Another witcher, Brehen, is mentioned in Season of Storms.)

Vesemir

You always were an unruly child.

-Vesemir to Ciri in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Vesemir is the oldest living witcher and sole survivor of the 12th-century massacre at Kaer Morhen. A fencing instructor, Vesemir maintains the keep and is a father figure to Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert.

When Geralt first finds Ciri in the Brokilon Forest, he tells her Vesemir used to tell him bedtime stories as a young witcher. Ciri affectionately calls him “Uncle” Vesemir and Triss calls him “Grandfather”. Fans of the franchise call him “Papa” Vesemir.

To learn more about his backstory, check out our lore guide to Vesemir.

vesemir-witcher-3

Eskel

Eskel stood next to Geralt, resembling the Wolf like a brother apart from the color of his hair and the long scar which disfigured his cheek.

Blood of Elves

Eskel is presumed to be younger than Geralt, but the two witchers grew up together. He’s first mentioned in the short story “The Last Wish”. 

As Geralt watches the djinn struggle to escape Yennefer’s trap, he recalls a memory in which he and Eskel trapped a bee with a thread tied to a jug. As the young witchers watched the bee struggle to get free, they “were in fits of laughter” — until they were caught and disciplined by Vesemir.

In Blood of Elves, Eskel takes a firm approach in training Ciri but is well-mannered, unlike Lambert.

Lambert

Lambert, Lambert, what a prick.

-Geralt’s limerick from “The Final Trial” side quest in The Witcher 3

Lambert is the youngest School of the Wolf witcher. Known for being sarcastic and rude, Lambert often butts heads with Triss during her stay at Kaer Morhen in Blood of Elves.

The books don’t offer much on Lambert’s backstory. In The Witcher 3 side-quest “The Final Trial”, Geralt learns more about Lambert’s childhood and how he came to be a witcher.

Coën

Coën put his arms around [Ciri] and burst out laughing. [Triss] suddenly realized that she had never, up until now, heard any of the witchers laugh.

Blood of Elves

Coën is another witcher (who belongs to a different school) and minor character who first appears in Blood of Elves. A native of Poviss, Coën spends the winter at Kaer Morhen with the witchers, Ciri, and Triss in Blood of Elves

Coën seems to be close friends with Ciri — he carries her piggyback, plays hand games with her, and isn’t as tough on her during training as the other witchers.

Main Characters

Geralt of Rivia

geralt in witcher 3

I am a wanderer, a witcher, a mutant, who travels the world and kills monsters for money…

-Geralt, Time of Contempt

Geralt of Rivia is the protagonist of the Witcher books, games, and Netflix show. Born to the sorceress Visenna, Geralt was surrendered to Kaer Morhen as an infant.

Although he’s arguably the most successful witcher on the Continent, Geralt endures prejudice from most people. He’s called a mutant, a freak, and other cruel names by the general public.

Geralt is in a tumultuous, on-and-off relationship with the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg. The couple is bound by destiny and a wish Geralt made to a djinn in The Last Wish.

His best friend is Dandelion, a flamboyant poet and bard who’s somewhat of a damsel in distress. Geralt features in many of Dandelion’s ballads, which are famous throughout the Continent.

How old is Geralt? No one knows exactly. In an interview with a Russian fansite, Andrzej Sapkowski says he’s “past 50” but also says Geralt “never tells anyone exactly how old he is.” 

Most estimations put him at around 100 years old during the events of the books and games. Two characters in The Last Wish describe him as “not old” despite his white hair.

Geralt later becomes the adoptive father of Ciri, who he claims by the Law of Surprise in The Last Wish.

Other names:

  • White Wolf
  • Gwynbleidd (meaning “white wolf” in the Elder Speech)
  • The Butcher of Blaviken
  • Ravix of Fourhorn (alias)

Ciri

Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, or Ciri for short, is a Cintran princess destined for much greater things. After the death of her mother, Pavetta, Ciri became the sole heir to the Cintran crown.

Ciri is a child of the Elder Blood and possesses powerful magical abilities that let her travel between worlds and through time. In Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt, Yennefer teaches Ciri to harness and control her powers.

According to Ithlinne’s Prophecy, Ciri’s child will stop the White Frost and prevent the end of the world.

Throughout the books and games, Ciri is hunted by several people who want to control or abuse her powers for their own gain. These include Vilgefortz, Avallac’h, Emperor var Emreis, and the Lodge of Sorceresses.

As we already mentioned, Ciri is bound to Geralt by destiny. Geralt first met Ciri in the Brokilon Forest when she was around 10 years old. 

She’d lost her way in the forest after running away from Cintra to escape her arranged marriage with Prince Kistrin, future king of Verden. (But we don’t want to spoil their story for you — go read The Sword of Destiny to learn more!)

Other names:

  • Lion Cub of Cintra
  • The Lady of Space and Time
  • Swallow
  • Zirael (meaning “swallow” in Elder Speech)

Yennefer

Triss (left) and Yennefer (right).
Triss (left) and Yennefer (right).

He felt himself approach her on his knees. Ten thousand bees buzzed in his head. Her hand smelt of lilac and gooseberries. Lilac and gooseberries…Lilac and gooseberries…

The Last Wish

Yennefer of Vengerberg is a powerful sorceress, Geralt’s partner, and Ciri’s adoptive mother. Before she became a mage, Yennefer was a hunchback born to abusive parents. 

Her father called her a “hunchback monster” and blamed Yennefer’s mother for the disability. Yennefer is part elf, descended from elven sorceresses on her mother’s side. In The Tower of the Swallow, she says she’s 94 years old.

One of her main goals throughout the books and TV show is to cure her infertility. (Most mages are sterile, although there are some exceptions, like Geralt’s mother.) To achieve this, she tries to capture a djinn in The Last Wish, which is how she ends up bound to Geralt.

Yennefer takes Ciri under her wing in Blood of Elves, testing her abilities and teaching her how to control her powers. Throughout the books, she does everything in her power to protect Ciri, even if it means sacrificing her own safety and freedom.

Triss Merigold

Triss Merigold is a sorceress, healer, and member of the Lodge of Sorceresses. Also called “Fourteenth of the Hill”, Triss was believed to have died during the Battle of Sodden during the First Northern War. Although she was seriously injured, she survived with the help of powerful healing magic.

Triss first appears in Blood of Elves. When Ciri begins having trances and predicting the future, Triss is summoned to Kaer Morhen to help. She spends the winter at Kaer Morhen, mentoring Ciri and teaching the witchers to cater to the unique needs of a growing girl.

Triss had a brief love affair with Geralt at some point after The Last Wish, while Geralt and Yennefer were quarreling. In the books, Triss admits she seduced Geralt using magic. Although Triss and Yennefer claim to be friends, there is jealousy on both sides. Yennefer even confronts Triss about it in Time of Contempt and The Lady of the Lake.

Triss is allergic to potions and uses amulets to heal herself. After their winter at Kaer Morhen, Triss and Geralt take Ciri to Ellander to study magic at Melitele’s temple. Along the way, Triss becomes very ill and realizes she lost her amulet. Geralt helps care for her on the road.

While she’s a relatively minor character in the books, she’s a major character in the games. Triss is also a romance option in Witcher 3 — in the books, Geralt is in love with Yennefer and resists Triss’ romantic advances.

Key Concepts

The Conjunction of the Spheres

conjunction of spheres witcher

The Conjunction came—” the elf raised his straw, hung with bubbles. “—and even more worlds were created. But the door is closed. It is closed to all but a handful of chosen ones. And time is passing. The door ought to be opened. Urgently.

-King Auberon, The Lady of the Lake

The Conjunction of the Spheres refers to the collision of worlds that trapped creatures in other universes. 

This cataclysm not only created new worlds, but also brought humans, Aen Seidhe elves, and monsters to the Continent. The Conjunction also introduced Chaos, the force that allows humans to wield magic.

Before the Conjunction, the elves (and presumably other species) traveled freely between worlds. After the Conjunction, they lost this ability.

The Elder Blood & Ithlinne’s Prophecy

Verily I say unto you, the era of the sword and axe is nigh, the era of the wolf’s blizzard. The Time of the White Chill and the White Light is nigh, the Time of Madness and the Time of Contempt: Tedd Deireádh, the Time of End. The world will die amidst frost and be reborn with the new sun.

It will be reborn of the Elder Blood, of Hen Ichaer, of the seed that has been sown. A seed which will not sprout but will burst into flame. Ess’tuath esse! Thus it shall be! Watch for the signs! What signs these shall be, I say unto you: first the earth will flow with the blood of Aen Seidhe, the Blood of Elves…

-Ithlinne’s Prophecy, Blood of Elves

Ithlinne’s Prophecy foretells an Ice Age that ends the world, killing all life. The prophecy predicts that only a child of the Elder Blood — specifically, Ciri’s child — can prevent the White Frost and save the Aen Seidhe elves.

The Elder Blood involves a centuries-long genetic experiment undertaken by elven Sages. The goal of the experiment was to produce even more powerful magic than that possessed by Sages. Lara Dorren, Ciri’s ancestor and an elven Sage, was a result of that experiment.

In The Tower of the Swallow, Avallac’h tells Geralt that Lara Dorren “should have given birth to a unique child”. 

But instead of mating with an elven Sage as planned, Lara Dorren fell in love with a human sorcerer called Cregennan of Lod, with whom she conceived a half-human, half-elf child. Their union incited an ongoing war between humans and elves.

Despite the deviation from the elves’ original plan, the Elder Blood mutated and passed down through Lara’s descendants. Only females could inherit the “true” Lara gene. 

Lara’s male descendants inherited activator genes, while some females inherited latent genes. To produce a child with the “true” Lara gene, a female carrying the latent gene would need to mate with a male carrying the activator gene.

Over time, the Elder Blood line was manipulated by sorceresses (including Yennefer) to control who ruled various Northern Kingdoms.

The genetics get a little complicated — read Baptism of Fire for an in-depth explanation courtesy of the Lodge of Sorceresses.

The Wild Hunt

…and through the sky rode the Wild Hunt, a procession of ghosts with flaming eyes riding on the backs of skeletal horses, their tattered clothes waving around them like banners.

-Chapter 1, The Tower of the Swallow

Also called “The Red Riders”, The Wild Hunt is a group of Aen Elle elves (elves that live on a separate world). Eredin Bréacc Glas is the leader of The Wild Hunt and the main antagonist of The Witcher 3.

Humans believe The Wild Hunt is a ghostly omen of war. In the winter, The Wild Hunt travels to the Continent to abduct humans and enslave them in the Aen Elle realm.

In Time of Contempt, The Wild Hunt rides through Gors Velen, where they sense Ciri’s power. Yennefer and Geralt rescue her from the Hunt, but the Red Riders continue to pursue her. Eredin captures her in The Tower of the Swallow and takes her to the Aen Elle world.

Before the Conjunction of the Spheres, the elves traveled freely between worlds through Ard Gaeth, or the Great Gate. After the Conjunction, Eredin and Avallac’h lose their ability to fully breach Geas Garadh, the magical barrier surrounding their world. 

The Wild Hunt is eventually able to reach the Spiral, a connection between worlds that only some are capable of using:

But the Fox [Avallac’h] and the Sparrowhawk [Eredin] cannot gain mastery over the Ard Gaeth, the Gate of Worlds. Once they had it. And then lost it. Now all they can do is wander between the worlds as impotent ghosts.

The Fox has reached Tir Na Bea Arainne, and Sparrowhawk and his riders can get to the Spiral. They do not have the strength to go anywhere else. That’s why they dream of Ard Gaeth and power.

-Ihuarraquax, The Lady of the Lake

Unlike the Wild Hunt, Ciri is able to travel freely between worlds thanks to the powers granted to her by the Elder Blood. 

This is why Eredin and Avallac’h imprison her — they want her and their king, Auberon, to conceive the prophesied Child of the Elder Blood, whose powers will be able to reopen the gate.

There’s not much lore on The Wild Hunt in the books — the games expand on The Wild Hunt’s backstory.

The Law of Surprise

Law of surprise by NikiVaszi.

Of the price a man who saves another can demand, of the granting of a seemingly impossible wish. ‘You will give me the first thing that comes to greet you.’ Or: ‘You’ll give me what you find at home yet don’t expect. […] Sometimes it’s a child. A child marked out by destiny.’

-“A Question of Price”, The Last Wish

The Law of Surprise is an ancient tradition that applies when one person saves another person’s life. The savior can demand one of two things: the first thing that comes to greet the victim upon their return home, or what they find at home but do not expect.

This creates an “an indissoluble tie of destiny between the person demanding the oath and its object.” People who break the oath can suffer curses and even death.

Geralt unknowingly claimed Ciri through the Law of Surprise twice. The first time was in The Last Wish, at Pavetta’s 15th birthday celebration, when Geralt saved Ciri’s father, Duny, from being stabbed by palace guards. When Duny asked Geralt to name his price, he invoked the Law of Surprise. Then, they discovered Pavetta was pregnant with Duny’s child — Ciri.

The second time was in The Sword of Destiny, when Geralt helped a merchant named Yurga retrieve his cart, which became stuck in the boards of a rotting bridge. To repay him, Yurga promised he’d give Geralt whatever he asked for. 

Geralt demanded “the thing that [he] did not expect to find on returning home.” Yurga and Geralt returned to find Yurga’s wife had “adopted” Ciri, believing she was a war orphan.

Witcher Lore Timeline

The Witcher lore timeline is a bit confusing, and there’s some conflicting info out there — we’ve done our best to provide accurate dates.

  • ~1,500 years before the books: The Conjunction of the Spheres; first humans arrive on the Continent
  • ~760s: First Landing — a new wave of humans arrive on the Continent in four ships and begin conquering the surrounding lands to create the Northern Kingdoms (Blood of Elves)
  • 1173: Yennefer of Vengerberg born.
  • 1217/1218: Queen Calanthe born.
  • 1233: A usurper overthrows Nilfgaardian king Fergus var Emrhys.
  • 1236/1237: Pavetta born.
  • 1252/1253: Ciri born.
  • 1263: First Northern War begins; Battle of Sodden fought.

Netflix’s The Witcher Lore

The Witcher | Netflix Official Site

The Netflix show is heavily inspired by the source material, but there are some key differences. Showrunner Lauren Hissrich portrayed many events that the books skipped over, including the Battle of Sodden, Yennefer’s origin story, and the Slaughter of Cintra.

The show also adds new events and changes the timeline of canon lore in some places. Here are a few main ways the show differs from the books:

  • The show jumps around in time — eventually, the timelines converge to the present. The books are more or less chronological, although there are some flashbacks.
  • Yennefer’s backstory is richer. Season 1 expands on the small amount of backstory presented in the books.
  • Triss is introduced much earlier than she is in the books.
  • In the show, Yennefer doesn’t hear what Geralt wishes for when they’re fighting the djinn.
  • Ciri is older when she first meets Geralt. In the books, Ciri is about 10 years old when Geralt finds her in the Brokilon Forest. When she meets Geralt for the first time (in a different location that we won’t spoil!), she’s about 15.

The show also differs from Witcher 3 in some ways.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Lore

Witcher 3 5 Year Celebration 4k Wallpaper: witcher

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt takes place after the games, in 1270, two years after the books end. Geralt is almost 100 years old in Witcher 3, judging from a quote by Vesemir mentioning that he’s “nearing his first century.” 

The Witcher 3 lore varies quite a bit from the books; here’s a quick rundown of the major differences:

  • The game world features significantly more monsters, potions, and even witcher schools.
  • Dandelion is a major character in the books but not in the TW3.
  • Triss is a minor character in the books but a major character in TW3.
  • Geralt uses Signs and potions much more in the games (he rarely uses them in the books).
  • Ciri’s fate at the end of the games is totally different from the books.

Phew! We know that was a lot of Witcher lore to take in. Still confused about something? Want to discuss the Witcher world with other fans? Drop a comment below!

About Mel Lee-Smith

Mel Lee-Smith is a freelance writer, managing editor, and Witcher nerd. She usually spends her free time slaying monsters, playing Gwent, and foraging for herbs in Beauclair. She's currently replaying TW3 NewGame+ on DeathMarch.

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