Founded by Ysgramor the First Man, Saarthal was once the capital city of Skyrim and one of the first cities of men. Once a big and thriving city, Saarthal was attacked and destroyed by the Snow Elves (Also known as the Falmer). It has since become one of the many abandoned ruins that dot Skyrim’s landscape.
The College of Winterhold has taken an interest in Saarthal. What arcane secrets may the ruins of one of Skyrim’s first grand cities hold? What forgotten magical marvels lie in wake beneath the stone? You’ll have to join the Mages College and see for yourself.
- Be a member of the College of Winterhold
Saarthal is slightly southwest Winterhold.
Under Saarthal is the second quest in the Mages College questline. Master Tolfdir has decided to take you and several other apprentices with him on an expedition to explore Saarthal’s ruins.
The Forbidden Legend
Saarthal is the resting place of Jyrik Gauldurson, one of the treacherous sons of Arch-Mage Gauldur. Before starting the finale of The Forbidden Legend, you must first confront the three Gauldur brothers and retrieve the fragments of their father’s amulet.
- Staff of Jyrik Gauldurson
- Saarthal Amulet
- Enchanted Rings (3)
- Ice Form Word of Power
Before You Venture To Saarthal
As stated in the requirements, you must be a member of the College of Winterhold to access these ruins. Joining up is easy; head for the college in Winterhold, speak with Faralda at the entry point, and pass her test by casting a random spell.
Go through the introduction process with Mirabelle Ervine, then finish the First Lessons quest. Under Saarthal will begin immediately after. Make sure you bring a pickaxe.
Getting To Saarthal
Fast-travel from the College of Winterhold back to Winterhold proper and follow the road before making a right down the upcoming mountain path. You’ll likely run into a couple of snow bears and ice wolves. The way to Saarthal may prove challenging if you’re at a low level.
When you reach Saarthal, head down the stairs to the base of the excavation site. On your way down, be sure to hit the vein of silver ore along the wall. If you immediately traveled to Saarthal from Winterhold, Tolfdir and the other apprentices won’t be here yet. Either wait for a couple of hours or fast travel somewhere else and return.
Once Tolfdir and the rest of the gang are here, the expedition into Saarthal will begin.
Head inside the excavation site and listen to Tolfdir give a brief lecture about the history of Saarthal. You can pick up some leather strips and a couple of alchemical ingredients on the way down.
When you reach the bottom, Tolfdir will assign each apprentice a task. He asks that you assist one of the college’s scholars, Arniel Gane, with his work. He’s here in Saarthal cataloging their finds and needs help finding any more magical artifacts. Before leaving this chamber, mine the iron ore vein behind the winding stairwell. Then, make your way deeper into Saarthal.
Make your way along the upper walkway until you reach a partially destroyed path. Jump the gap and pick the Adept-locked chest on the other side for some loot. Next, jump down from here to pick up two units of quicksilver ore and a refined malachite in a bucket. Head across the chamber at the bottom and take the winding stairway back up to the upper walkway. There’s a gold ore vein on the wall on your way up, but the mining prompt is sometimes tricky to receive. After mining your gold, follow the nearby waypoint to speak with Arniel Gane.
The stereotypical absent-minded mage, Arniel, is deep in thought when you speak with him. Tell him that Tolfdir asked that you assist him, and he will task you with finding the rest of the magical artifacts in the area. You can do so without speaking with Arniel, but getting the objective for him will mark where the four objects are.
Three magical artifacts are enchanted rings, each with a Fortify Health by 20 points enchantment. Technically, you’re supposed to hand these to Arniel, but I recommend keeping them. Each ring has a base value of 207 gold, which is more than the paltry amount Arniel gives you for your help. If you don’t already know the Fortify Health enchantment, this is an easy way to get it.
Head inside the room on the right and activate the ancient amulet. You will obtain the Saarthal Amulet and become trapped inside the room. Tolfdir will rush up to ask what happened, so explain to him your current situation.
Tell Tolfdir about the amulet, and he will suggest using it to see if it can help you escape. Equip the Saarthal Amulet in your inventory, and the wall you pulled it from will begin emitting a strange red aura. Tolfdir will note the connection between the wall and the Saarthal Amulet and tell you to see what your spells will do.
Use any spell on the wall, and it will crumble and reveal a secret passageway. Not wanting to pass up this opportunity to learn more, Tolfdir will accompany you deeper into Saarthal.
Head through the passageway and into the next room, and suddenly, the screen will turn a blue hue. A man named Nerien will appear and speak with you. He will tell you that you have sparked a chain of events and that dangers are ahead.
He will assure you that the Psijic Order believes in you and that you’re the only one who can prevent disaster. Then, he disappears. Speak with Tolfdir about the vision, and he will express confusion. No one has seen or heard from the Psijic Order in many years. He advises that the both of you proceed with caution.
And right on schedule, two draugr will pop out of their coffins to attack you. After disposing of them, head down the passage behind the eastern coffin to continue.
Make your way down the crypt and pull the lever to release the gate into a large burial chamber. Once you and Tolfdir are inside, four leveled draugr will emerge from the coffins.
With them down for the count, Tolfdir will express amazement at the chamber you’re in and tell you that he’d like to stay here and study it for a while. Pull the two chains on the far end of the chamber to release the gate, then make your way inside the secret ruins of Saarthal.
The first room has several leveled draugr and a fire rune trap on the ground. The third draugr is on the upper walkway and can be dealt with alone. Lure the two draugr on the bottom floor to the open doorway to get easy kills.
Thoroughly explore the upper walkway for some alchemical ingredients, a ruby on one of the tables, and another Adept-locked chest. Also, pay attention to the walls from here on out, are there’s some hanging moss here. After looting this section, head through the iron door to continue.
Progress deeper into the crypt (Watch out for a few pressure plate traps), and soon you’ll find the first puzzle in Saarthal. There are six animal pillars here, and you have to place them in the correct positions to continue. The solution to this puzzle is to look up and behind the pillars.
There are animal emblems on the walls. Match each corresponding pillar to the animal behind it, then pull the lever to release the gate. Get ready for a boss fight.
On the upper platform of this next room is the first boss of Saarthal, a leveled draugr. Depending on your level, this could be a draugr deathlord. Be careful since the boss can knock you off your feet with the Unrelenting Force shout. There’s a lot of open space in this chamber, so use it to your advantage. Have a follower and or summoned minion with you, and kite the boss around while they lay into him. Eventually, he’ll go down.
Head through the door behind the draugr’s coffin and grab the loot inside the chest. There are two lightning runes on the ground in this section. Before you can enter the final area of Saarthal, you must solve another puzzle. And this one is trickier than the first.
You will still need to match the pillars with the emblems behind them, but the catch here is that turning some pillars will also spin one or more of the others. You have to flip them in the correct order so you can continue. To solve the puzzle, turn the bottom left pillar to whale first, then the upper left pillar to snake. Flip the bottom right pillar to hawk and then the upper right pillar to snake. Activate the lever, and the gate will release.
Tolfdir will show back up again after you release the gate. Thanks for helping us out with those draugr Master Tolfdir. Anyways, enter the last section of the crypt, bypassing the pressure plate in the middle of the room. If you have any potions you want to make, there’s an alchemy lab here. Make your final preparations, as your time in Saarthal is about to end.
Showdown With Jyrik Gauldurson
Step through the iron door at the end of the crypt and walk down the stairs. You’ll see a massive spherical device surrounded by arcane energy in the center of this room. There’s also a draugr sitting on the throne below. Say hello to Jyrik Gauldurson.
Tolfdir will rush down to attack Jyrik, but you’ll quickly discover that Jyrik isn’t taking any damage. Tolfdir asks that you hold him off while he tries to drain some of his power. He will then run towards the magical barrier and use shock magic on it.
Jyrik attacks with a melee weapon and can also use Unrelenting Force and frost spells. He may also summon a Frost Atronach to attack you, so be careful. After a minute or two, Tolfdir will give you the signal to attack, and from that point on, Jyrik will be vulnerable. He’s about as tough as a regular draugr deathlord, so keep whacking him until he goes down.
After defeating Jyrik, the magical barrier will dissipate. Loot his corpse for his Gauldur Amulet Fragment and his writ of sealing. If you haven’t already started The Forbidden Legend quest, you will now. Speak with Tolfdir once again, and he will express his amazement at your discovery. He doesn’t want to leave this mysterious device unattended and asks that you inform the Arch-Mage immediately.
But before you leave the room, make sure to claim your prizes. The first is the Staff of Jyrik Gauldurson on the table in front of the throne. The staff is a unique Lighting Bolt staff that deals 25 points of HP damage and twice as much Magicka damage. It’s an excellent weapon for neutering any mages you come across.
Head through the iron door behind the mysterious orb to enter a secret room. Inside is a chest with some loot and a Word Wall. Just walk up to it to learn a Word of Power for the Ice Form shout. Ice Form allows you to turn opponents into popsicles for a few seconds. It’s pretty unnecessary later on but useful in the early game.
Make your way through the iron door in this room to get back to Saarthal Excavations via a hidden gate, and you’re home free. Saarthal has been 100% explored.
Question: Which Gauldur brother should I fight first for The Forbidden Legend quest?
Answer: Jyrik is by far the easiest of the three brothers to defeat. Unlike the other two, he never uses his unique weapon and is more or less a glorified deathlord.
Question: Is there any reason to come back to Saarthal after completing Under Saarthal and The Forbidden Legend?
Answer: No. Saarthal is one of the few dungeons in Skyrim that stays cleared out. It’s a one-and-done experience.
Question: Is Saarthal hard to clear at a low level?
Answer: Not really; you just have to play more passively. Draugr are slow, so use that to your advantage. Let your companions and minions do the heavy lifting for you.
Saarthal Guide: Conclusion
I am pretty on the fence about how I feel about Saarthal. It’s a fantastic early game quest for mages, especially those who want to roleplay as pure mages. The Staff of Jyrik Gauldurson will be your best-in-slot staff for a while, and this isn’t too hard a dungeon to clear.
On the other hand, it’s a perfect example of Bethesda gating content behind one of the local factions. You need to clear out Saarthal to progress The Forbidden Legend quest, and you need to be a member of the Mages College to enter Winterhold. What if you’re roleplaying as a Khajiit thief with no interest in magic? I’m also not a huge fan of gating Words of Power behind factions either.
Overall, Saarthal is a good start for the College of Winterhold questline. It has nice rewards, low difficulty, and a decent plot thread to tug. If you want to see how the rest of the questline plays out, make your way back to Savos Aren. Have fun!