The Bells carried by the Abhorsen (or a Necromancer) are nicely described in the Wikipedia Page. In addition there is the Garth Nix Wiki which has decent pages for all the bells — these are linked below.
Anyone can ring the bells, but doing so carelessly (or unskilled) will cause all the negative effects of the bell to be reflected on the bearer (and maybe other party members too).
Making the Bells (or Pipes)
As many OSR games have mechanics for building your own magic items. Beyond the Wall has various rituals that can be turned to the purpose, and in particular Further Afield describes different levels of rituals for increasing power of magic items. Suggest that to make a complete set of bells a Third Enchantment may be needed (up to the GM whether the First and Second Enchantments are capable of producing the weaker bells).
Each bell must be made in a particular Precinct of Death (a high cost already):
- Ranna (1st)
- Mosrael (2nd)
- Kibeth (4th)
- Dyrim (5th)
- Belgaer (6th)
- Saraneth (7th)
- Astarael (8th)
These are individually crafted items and probably take on some of the character of their maker. Also if pipes are allowed as an alternative to bells, what about other instruments — say, a seven-stringed viol?
(bells work better if you want to hold a weapon in the other hand, of course)
Clearly the manufacturing requirements of these items are pretty onerous, so it’s much more likely they will be found rather than made, particularly if they’re found by low-level PCs. And being low-level, those characters won’t have much expertise in using such items safely. The GM should be prepared to activate each bell’s downside if it’s misused, and give the bells personalities of their own — to the point that each bell wants to be rung.
These are magic items to be feared, not played with.
Using the Bells
Using each bell is a kind of Ritual, although only taking a few moments. If you don’t know the ritual, you’re at a severe disadvantage to use them safely.
All such rituals are Range: Near. In all cases if the Ritual roll is failed, the normal effects happen but so do the consequences of failure.
The more powerful bells involve downsides such as manipulating memory and behaviour.
The smallest of the Bells; the Sleepbringer. Its effect is to induce calm or sleepiness in humans and Dead alike.
Effect: All who hear Ranna make a Save vs. Magic. Failure means the target is at -2 to all actions, and must make a further save or fall asleep. The Abhorsen’s allies get +8 on their save. Especially weak Dead (zombies, individual gore crows) may be cast back into Death.
Complication: If the Abhorsen makes an error, both she and her allies must make a save with no bonus or be affected.
Duration: 1 hour/level, or Permanent with a body
The Waker; used by Necromancers to call the Dead to Life.
Effect: the bell calls the Dead into Life. How long they stay will depend on whether there is a suitable vessel for them to occupy.
Complication: if misused, this bell with throw the bearer into Death.
Kibeth (Dexterity) Level 3 Duration: Permanent
Kibeth is the Walker. It can animate the Dead in Life and also make them walk through the gates of Death.
Effect: a Necromancer will use Kibeth to animate a corpse; no saving throw is required of the target. An Abhorsen will use the bell in the opposite fashion, to cast the Dead into Death and beyond the First Gate. When it is used in this way, the target must Save vs. Spells or be forced to move into Death. The spell must be used once to force the Dead to cross over, and again to make them go through the First Gate.
Complication: a misuse will require the bearer to make a save or be directed to cross over into Death and walk towards the First Gate. Use the same rules as those for falling into Death after hitting 0 HP.
Dyrim gives the Dead a voice, or silences the living.
Effect: whether Dead or Alive the target should make a Save vs. Spells. Several effects are possible: a lightening of mood (changing reaction rolls), silence (preventing spell casting etc.), or allowing the Dead to speak.
Complication: misuse will rebound on the bearer, rendering them unable to speak; a save vs spells can be attempted every 10 mins to shake off the effect.
Belgaer affects memories, unlocking those of the Dead, or suppressing them.
Effect: if the bell is used to suppress a memory, the target must save against Spells; a failure means the bearer may erase or suppress the memories of the target. If the bell is instead used to bring back memories that have been erased by Death no save is required.
Complication: if the ritual is misused, there is a risk of the bearer’s memory being affected. They may lose
- a skill
- a recent memory (of adventuring with the other characters)
- a distant memory (e.g. something from their playbooks)
A save against Spells should be allowed on a weekly basis to recover the memory.
Saraneth is the Binder, used to bind the Dead (or Free Magic creatures) to the will of the Abhorsen.
Effect: the effect is not unlike Kibeth, but the magic is sufficiently strong that the user may force the target through the Ninth Gate.
Complication: a misuse will cause the user to become a slave to Saraneth for a while. The GM should take control of the PC and make them go where the bell desires — be that in Life or Death. A saving throw once per day may be attempted to shake the effects off.
When rung properly Astarael the Sorrowful sends everyone who hears it deep into death — including the bearer.
Effect: the effect is similar to Kibeth except the transition is instant and affects everyone in the area. The GM should randomise which Precinct everyone arrives in. Roll 1d20:
1-5: third precinct 6-10: fourth precinct 11-14: fifth precinct 15-18: sixth precinct 19: seventh precinct 20: eighth precinct
Complication: with a misuse, when the PCs land in Death they are considered to be falling into Death, and should start making saving throws against Death to regain their footing, or accidentally walk further down through the gates.