Tolfdir's class meets outside the ruins of Saarthal before beginning an academic exploration of the ruins. The Dragonborn may travel there with the other students as a group, and they will help deal with any bears or trolls encountered on the way.
After some touring inside, Tolfdir will ask the Dragonborn to find Arniel Gane. (The Dragonborn may simply run ahead to the quest marker and speak to Arniel without waiting for Tolfdir.)
The Dragonborn must now find several artifacts, one of which is the Saarthal Amulet. The others are very small and hard to see, but clearly marked on the quest indicator as long as they are taken before the Amulet, or else the quest markers will disappear. The artifacts do not have to be returned to Arniel and can be kept.
Retrieving the Saarthal Amulet will trap the Dragonborn. Escape can be achieved by equipping the amulet and casting any spell on the tablet from which it originally came. (Tolfdir will approach outside the trapped area and suggest using the amulet if the Dragonborn should try to return to Arniel.) The tablet will break into pieces, revealing a passage and removing the blocking gates.
Tolfdir will then take the lead. When he gets to the room at the end of the passage, there will be a vision sequence, which only the Dragonborn will be able to see. After talking to Tolfdir about the vision, the Dragonborn will have to deal with draugr that appear from the three coffins in the room. The draugr can be killed with little or no risk of injury using archery; Tolfdir cannot be killed, so an effective tactic would be to shoot the draugr attacking him. If Tolfdir is knocked down the draugr will likely switch their attacks to the Dragonborn until Tolfir gets up again.
The Dragonborn should then follow Tolfdir to a barred gate in a room. The lever to open the gate is on the right; the room beyond holds more draugr to be dealt with. Tolfdir will pass through the middle coffin into a large room where four draugr will arise from their wall crypts. The Dragonborn will help Tolfdir slay all of them (again, good sneak and archery can help the Dragonborn remain unnoticed and unharmed).
The two chains, one on each side of the gate, open the way to the next area.
There are a number of inconveniently placed traps that have the potential to provide a great deal of problems for some of the Dragonborn's followers, especially dogs. Most are pressure pads, so they can be avoided with some caution. The swinging pendulums are also difficult for followers to navigate, so keep healing spells handy or be ready to wait.
Ideally the Dragonborn should proceed alone, killing draugr as necessary. In a large room, there is a draugr, a rune trap, and two more draugr. An effective tactic would be to kill the first draugr and get the attention of the next two, so that when they approach, the trap can be triggered to damage them.
After several more rooms and traps, there will be a door on the second floor near a broken coffin. Beyond there is a puzzle with six different movable pillars. The correct position for each pillar is shown on the wall directly behind and above them. This fact could easily be missed if the Dragonborn were not up close to the pillars. The Candlelight spell (or Night Eye) makes them easier to see. Once the pillars are properly set, the lever can be activated to open the gate.
In the next room there are two wooden ramps. As the Dragonborn nears the top of teiter one, a Draugr Deathlord, Draugr Wight or Draugr Scourge (level dependent) arise. An effective tactic would be to lure the draugr back to the pillar puzzle room and shut the gate. The Dragonborn would then be able to shoot arrows at the enemy whenever it appears from around the corner. Alternatively, a high sneak skill and a potion of invisibility could be combined to sneak through the door near the top of the ramp, and close it. Provided the Dragonborn were quiet, the draugr would almost certainly remain unaware. There is a chest and other items to loot here. Beyond an iron door, there are two rune traps to pass. Activating either trap using a shout or magic will make noise and attract the draugr, while walking over the traps will not. The first rune trap can be easily avoided by walking around it, while second rune trap in the doorway can be jumped over without taking any damage. Passing over the second trap means the draugr is ultimately evaded.
There are four pillars that give you the solution to the spinning puzzle pillars ahead. The first pillar on the left must be turned to snake, then the second to whale. Turning the second to whale will turn the first again, but no worries the first pillar on the left & right can be turned again without reacting with the other pillars. Turn the first one back to snake on the left. Then on the right turn the first to whale, second to eagle. Turning the second will change the first pillar on the right, but simply change it back to whale. Activate the lever and the barred door will open. (All Pillar patterns are on the ceiling behind each pillar)
After passing through the gate, Tolfdir will reappear. There is an Alchemy Lab in the north side of the room, but there is also a poison dart trap trigger in the center of the floor.
Through another iron door, in the final room, approaching the glowing will summon the draugr-shape of Jyrik Gauldurson. Initially Jyrik is invulnerable, but after about 30 seconds, Tolfdir is able to weaken Jyrik by casting a spell on the glowing orb in the room, allowing the Dragonborn to deal damage.
Jyrik Gauldurson is powerful, on the level of a Draugr Deathlord. If the Dragonborn possesses good sneaking and archery skills the Jyrik can be defeated without risk. The Dragonborn should stay on the balcony, standing close enough to see the floor below without standing near the balcony's edge, and shoot Gauldurson with arrows. Gauldurson will run up to the balcony but will only run along the edge and will fail to spot the Dragonborn; enough arrows and he will eventually perish.
Sometimes outside Saarthal, Tolfdir thinks there is a enemy when there is not and wanders off and can't find him again therefore impossible to get into Saarthal and complete the quest
When first entering Saarthal, after Tolfdir goes through the door, he can sometimes end up in a completely random part of the world. After waiting a day, he reappears inside the dungeon.
PC 360 PS3 In the room where Tolfdir stays and the player moves on alone, the door has some kind of invisible wall in front of it and cannot be activated to the next zone. Reloading the autosave fixed it. If you're on PC open the console "~" and type tcl to turn collision off. After getting through just re-open the console and repeat thus turning collision back on.
When taking the Saarthal Amulet and moving any direction immediately after, the Amulet will not freeze the player. The game will progress normally even so.
The door on which the Saarthal Amulet is found causes the game to crash when a spell is cast on it. This occurs while the player is trapped in the room and Tolfdir is watching.
Solution: equip the Amulet plus one of the Rings the player has just collected.
Solution: Try firing Firebolt or other projectile spell at the door, then look away as quickly as possible so that it's not in the field of view when it breaks. Try standing up against the barred door in front of Tolfdir, aiming the reticule at the left side of the door, firing the spell, and then jerking the view as far to the left as possible. If the door breaks while looking away from it, the game should not freeze. Another way is to go to the barred door farthest from the stone door, where the player can only see the lowest part of the stone door, and cast something like lightning bolt on it.
In some instances where Firebolt freezes the game, using Flames works.
If none of these work, as the spell is about to hit the door you can open console, or just keep tapping the console key as soon as you have fired the spell.
Also, playing the scene in windowed mode (as opposed to full-screen) works for some people.
Another option is setting the graphics settings on low, breaking the wall down and restoring the settings. Unfortunately, this necessitates exiting the game twice.
It has been found that equipping the amulet then standing as far from the breakable wall as possible, then using unrelenting force shout caused the barred doorways to open.
Alternatively, you may also use Candlelight or Magelight to break open the wall
Sometimes, if you stand right next to the door, in first person, looking only to half of the door, you can prevent the crash by using Flames and quickly turning your view from the door to the wall.
The gate before finding the amulet will sometimes close when the player equips the amulet, trapping Tolfdir. If the player continues down the hall the quest will update and he will warp through, however, when you are done with the events in Saarthal and are to return to the College, the gate will remain closed, and the player is trapped. You cannot fix this once it has happened. Save the game and make sure the gate is open before progressing with the quest. Last resort: console command "TCL" will toggle no-clip to walk through the gate.
Gates Before Amulet Closed before quest: Solution Walk-through (Xbox): Step 1: Bring a follower with you Step 2a: (If 3rd ring is stuck inside), send follower in to grab ring (their bug will warp them into room), then call them back and trade with them, get ring (this will not give quest credit), Step 2b: Face down the hall to your left, throw the ring down, it will give an arrow, pick it up, quest portion complete. Step 2c: When at the gates, have your follower activate the amulet (this will put the follower near the amulet) Step 3: Unrelenting Force in between your follower and the amulet, the gates should drop.
If the player is in beast form when Tolfdir catches up, the player will not be able to progress in the quest, even if the beast form wears off.
The Draugr Deathlord or Scourge may not appear after the first pillar puzzle. Instead, a Restless Draugr or Draugr Wight may come from the coffin and attack. Fortunately, these are both relatively easy to defeat.
The six pillars will not rotate when trying to spin them. This can be fixed by saving and reloading. If this does not work, try leaving the area and reentering.
Pulling the lever in the room with four rotating pillars (right before Tolfdir rejoins you) can cause the player's follower to disappear.
To avoid this, dismiss the follower before pulling the lever.
At the second pillar puzzle, the game will not recognize the completed puzzle. When it is solved, darts still fire and the door will not open.
In a few circumstances, players have found the solution to be some other random combination of pillar faces.
Some people have opened the door by placing the pillars in the following order:
Left front: Snake
Left back: Whale
Right front: Whale
Right back: Bird
This can also be resolved by entering the console, selecting the lever at the center of the puzzle, and entering 'setpv numPillarsSolved_var 4', followed by 'setpv puzzleSolved_var true'. After exiting the console and activating the lever, the door should open as normal.
For some users, Tolfdir doesn't appear at the meeting place outside of the Saarthal entrance and cannot be found anywhere between Saarthal and The College of Winterhold. This persists after waiting several days in-game.
Solution: Traveling back to the college, entering the Hall of the Elements, and then returning to Saarthal (do not fast travel) fixed this.
Also, reloading a previous save may fix this.
Another solution would be to fast travel to another area (Whiterun for example) and then turn off BOTH the "Under Saarthal" quest and the "Forbidden Legend" quest. You can then fast travel back to Saarthal, and Tolfdir will be there
PS3 Solution: If you open the door and try to return to the hall of elements your system may crash.
Solution: use console command player.placeatme 0001C19E while standing near the quest pointer.
After taking the amulet and going through the door, being killed by a draugr and reloading caused the amulet to become invisible.
The player can fall through the floor in the hallway with the shock rune and will end up in the room in front of the glowing orb. Jyrik Gauldurson will be still seated and will not rise until the player backtracks and finds Tolfdir. However, Tolfdir will never cast a spell on the orb, and Jyrick will be invincible indefinitely.
Sometimes in the room where the vision is supposed to take place, the spirit will appear but no dialog will occur, and the game will be stuck. You cannot fix this if you are inside the room because the way out will be blocked by an invisible wall. However, if it keeps happening, you can fix this by quickly running in and then out of the room. Once the spirit appears, walk back out into Skyrim. This will allow the quest to continue.
Sometimes when the player enters Saarthal from the Saarthal excavation the player's companion (Lydia) will become invisible. Normal interaction with her can still take place by hovering over where she should be. The player may still continue to progress, but with the knowledge that the Draugr Deathlords may also be invisible and, therefore, hard to kill. Exiting and reentering Saarthal doesn't correct this problem. The player may be able to sneak past and into the next area, basically bypassing the problem.
PC When searching for the Amulet, quest markers also point to Enchanted Rings with a +20 health increase. These can be exploited and worn simultaneously with any other ring in the game, given that the player equips the Enchanted Ring first. But the player must also have the Archmage's Robes equipped, which is awarded much later in the College's questline.
Sometimes the door blocking the exit to Saarthal Excavation won't open.
If the player has Barbas along when going into battle, Tolfdir may cast explosive spells that can hit Barbas. If Barbas is hit enough times, he will attack Tolfdir, but neither of them can die. Reloading a previous save and leaving Barbas behind should fix this.
Sometimes if you are talking to Arniel Gane and you have a torch in your hand, it will disappear. Load the last save to get it back. It is unknown if this happens anywhere.
Using the Whirlwind Sprint onto the broken platform after going upstairs in the room with a Draugr Scourge, Draugr Deathlord, or Draugr Wight may let you jump through the wall into the final battle room. You should then take all of Jyrik's things that are around him on the table and go back to find Tolfdir a few rooms back don't worry there are no enemies on the way. Once you find Tolfdir go back to the final battle room and the regular final battle will continue.
360 It is possible, when first encountering the orb, for the Dragonborn to spontaneously receive two of the exact same active effects, Fortify Magicka Regen, that will increase the magicka regen rate by 100% each and will last for 7 days each.
When Tolfdir is outside of Saarthal it is possible that he will be attacked by giants. He will try to defend himself but will be launched in the air to never to return to Saarthal
360 Sometimes the pillars from the first puzzle cannot be rotated by activating them. Reloading area (going back to previous area and returning) fixes problem.