Or what All Flesh Must Be Eaten calls "Sharing The Love".
While many undead have a spawn creation feature — "Any creature slain by a Darkname Scarything will rise as a Darkname Scarything in RandomRoll rounds" — zombies, at least in some media, can be even nastier — if they hit you, you die later and then rise… or, rather, just keep on going… as one of them. You may even be aware of the process while it’s happening, and so are your friends. This leads to dramatic moments where you shoot your best buddy in the face, or hold off, until he decides to eat your face. Nom nom nom.
What with healing surges, Warlords yelling at you until your broken leg heals, and a maximum one day stay in the hospital, there’s really only one way to add truly long-term damage to 4e, and that’s with the disease track. This installment of Breakfast Crunch offers a form of Zombie Transformation Sickness (henceforth termed Zombie Plague) and some notes, ideas, variants, and pointless digressions on irrelevant subjects.
Pretty much anyone who is attacked and injured by a zombie is exposed to the plague. In most of the source fiction, there is no way to fight off the infection or recover from it; if you’re bitten or clawed, you will slowly but surely degenerate into a shambling, mumbling, monster. For purposes of Heroic Fantasy Gaming, though, we’re going to follow the default Fourth Edition paradigm and allow infected PCs a chance to throw off the crippling sickness, though it ought to be tough. Given that the default Zombie Braingnawer is a 5th level Brute, we’re assuming that this kind of "survival horror" game is low to mid heroic tier — say 4th to 8th level. (I will be looking at Paragon and even Epic zombie games later, in theory.)
|Zombie Plague||Level 9 Disease|
|The bite of a zombie carries with it a deadly curse….||Attack: +13 vs. Fortitude|
|Endurance:Improve DC 23; Maintain DC 19; Worsen DC 18 or lower|
|The target is cured.||Initial Effect; The target regains only half the number of hit points from healing effects, and suffers a -1 to Move.||The target is at -2 to all defenses and checks.||The target is at -4 to all defenses and checks, and is Dazed.||Final State: The target becomes a Zombie Braingnawer.|
At the initial stages of the disease, the target begins to shiver uncontrollably, no matter the temperature. Food tastes "wrong" to him, and his wounds refuse to heal. He becomes lethargic and hard to rouse to action, and general intelligence seems to be drop. By later stages, his motions become increasingly uncontrolled and his thought patterns more blurred and erratic. His limbs stiffen and every movement is painful. The final stage is marked by a sudden collapse into a death, and then an equally sudden rebirth as a quite energetic, and quite hungry, zombie.
The above is a basic template for the "assumed" curse. It can be changed. For one thing, tossing a level 9 disease at level 5 characters can be considered unfair, though if you’re going for more horror and less heroism, it can be a good thing to hit them with something they’ll need to work at to shrug off, especially if they’re not Trained in Endurance. To better "scale" the disease, try these numbers:
Attack: Zombie’s level + 4 vs. Fortitude.
Endurance: Improve: 18 +1/2 Zombie’s level; Maintain 14+1/2 Zombie’s level; Worsen: 13+1/2 zombies level or lower.
(You can, of course, also adjust this formula to make a deadlier or more lenient level-based plague.)
Another option is to streeeetch out the timescale. Add a "-3" stage between the -2 and -4, and a -1 to all stage after initial effect. This gives the characters a few more days to find a cure and better odds of rolling improve or stabilize and hanging in there just one more day. Alternatively, you can make the process quick — remove the -2 to stage.
For minions and low level NPCs, the rules can be changed. Well, any minion hit by a braingnawer will be killed by them instantly and rise, so there’s no need to worry about a disease track. Lower level NPCs can be assumed to suffer the cosequences of the disease in a single day, giving you an idea how fast the plague can spread in a town. NPCs traveling with the PCs, especially any acting as long-term companions, should get to follow the full disease track.
Another option is to have anyone who has Zombie Plague, but who has not yet succumbed to it, also be a carrier of it. Given that your typical PCs is assumed to be covered with minor scrapes, cuts, bruises, and so on, regardless of the current state of his "hit points", it is very easy to see how an infected PC can pass the disease along to another without necessarily getting all nommy on their friend’s skull. Any time an infected PC performs an action which requires touching a non-infected PC when that PC is at anything other than maximum hit points (this includes a Short Rest, since it’s presumed that this is when wounds are bandaged and cleaned, etc), he has a chance of passing the disease along. Some examples include performing many Heal checks, using any power with a range of Touch, some types of Aid Another actions, passing through an occupied square, and so on. The DM should use judgment and sadism in equal portions. The infection of a still-living carrier is a bit weaker — the attack should be two below whatever the standard is for your version of Zombie Plague — but the effects are just as strong, and now there’s two carriers in the party.
Any player whose character is infected with Zombie Plague ought to be encouraged to roleplay the disease’s progression and have fun with it. Near the terminal stages, the character’s craving for braaaains will become nearly uncontrollable, and he may make playful nips at his comrades’ skulls at odd moments. If the character lives, his experience can be fodder for jokes, or for Painful Angst, as he realizes how close to becoming a monster he was, etc. He may feel pity for the victims of the plague, or he may become a cruel avenger, destroying them mercilessly and slaying anyone whom he suspects might have been infected, based on the most trivial of signs.