If you can have half-vampires, why not half-zombies?
But before we go there, a quick aside. As it turns out, WOTC already has their version of the nom-your-brains zombie, it’s in Open Grave and it’s a template which makes zombies elite. They even have a Zombie Plague, it just wasn’t actually published in OG due to a printing error, but you can get it in errata. My concepts, while drawing from much the same mythos, were mechanically developed without reference to theirs; any similarities are due to using the same source idea filtered through the same mechanics. I personally disagree with the idea brain-eaters are elite; if anything, I’d be tempted to add "And target contracts zombie plague" to a minion’s claw attacks, to best model the "They’re coming through the walls!" theme of zombie horror films. (I wish to note I did search DDI for "zombie" to make sure I wasn’t being redundant. Turns out DDI doesn’t list/include templates; why, I don’t know. Nor does it include diseases, so I didn’t get anything there, either. Main upshot is, there’s an "official" way to do it, and there’s my way, and you’re welcome to use either, both, or mix-and-match.)
OK, on to half-zombies.
This is a bit of a misnomer. A half-zombie isn’t the product of a zombie and a human loving each other very much. It’s my term, mostly because it’s 6:40 AM and I’m not feeling especially creative, for a person who survives Zombie Plague but who still isn’t quite right. These concepts can also be used to model the subject of a Raise Dead ritual which mostly worked. (As written, Raise Dead can’t fail; the Religion check is pretty much just for show. If a player wishes to use this heritage template but hasn’t been exposed to zombies, claiming that a Raise Dead ritual went ‘wrong’ is a pretty good excuse. Of course, that means dying first…)
Half-zombie is a chain of bloodline feats, but you do not need to be first level to take them. Anyone who meets the above criteria qualifies. A generous DM, or one who sees a lot of story potential here, can allow the "qualification" to have occurred off-stage, during downtime between levels.
Actual crunchy bits after the break!
Taint Of The Grave [Zombie Bloodline]
Prerequisite: Living humanoid race; survivor of Zombie Plague or subject of Raise Dead
Benefit: You gain ghoulish revival as a Utility Power. In addition, you gain a +2 bonus to Perception checks to notice hidden living creatures within 6 squares.
Special: You are considered a zombie for the purpose of effects that relate to zombies.
You get knocked down, but you get up again.
When you are at 0 hit points or fewer, you may spend a healing surge and stand as a single action.
Deadness Behind The Eyes [Zombie Bloodline]
Prerequisite: Taint Of The Grave
Benefit: People look into your eyes… and see nothing there. You gain a +2 feat bonus to Intimidate checks and a +4 feat bonus to saving throws against fear effects.
Design Notes: This doesn’t stack with Skill Focus (Intimidate), because both are feat bonuses. And it gives a lower benefit. On the other side, it also gives a nice bonus to saving throws. You’re paying a "Feat Tax" to get access to this, it needs to be better than SF(I) without allowing the stacking of bonuses to the point where balance is thrown out of whack, especially given that the "Intimidamancer" is apparently a popular build.
Graveborn Inexorability [Zombie Bloodline]
Prerequisite: 10th level, Taint Of The Grave
Benefit: You may swap one 10th level or higher utility power for Graveborn Inexorability
Death couldn’t stop you; what makes your foe think anything else can?
Immediate Reaction: Trigger: You are affected by any power which includes forced movement. Effect: You negate the forced movement. In addition, if the source of the attack is within your move, you may immediately Charge as a free action.
Design Notes:"Negate forced movement" is generally a level 2 utility, but I think a free Charge makes this worthy to be 10th level.
Bloodied Renewal [Zombie Bloodline]
Prerequisite: 11th level, Taint Of The Grave
Benefit: You may swap one 10th level or higher utility power for Bloodied Renewal
So long as the lust for flesh is upon you, you cannot die…
Minor Action, Personal
Requirement; You must be bloodied.
Effect: You gain Regeneration 5 (Radiant). This power lasts until you fail to make an attack against an adjacent living enemy, or until the end of the encounter, whichever comes first.
Design Notes: The restriction here tries to reinforce the notion of a being still tainted by, and consumed with, bloodlust. Note you don’t need to always connect with an attack, or use melee attacks — you just need to make sure some adjacent enemy is included in your attacks. (Originally, this was "an adjacent creature", but I saw a loophole where you could use some attack power to which a comrade was immune, and I also wanted to reinforce the idea that zombies hunt the living,)
Gory Assault [Zombie Bloodline]
Prerequisite: 13th level, Taint Of The Grave
Benefit: You may swap one 13th level or higher attack power for Gory Assault
Your suddenly sharp and ragged teeth leave a gaping wound, and the feeling of living flesh in your gullet strengthens you.
Encounter, Healing Minor Action
Target: One living creature
Attack: Dexterity +4 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d4 + Strength modifier damage, 5 ongoing damage (save ends) and you gain temporary hit points equal to the damage you dealt.
Increase to +6 bonus and 4d4 + Strength modifier damage at 21st level.
Design Notes: This was one I spent way too much time on, given my self-imposed "One hour" restriction for Breakfast Crunch articles. (I have typically been spending closer to 90 minutes, sigh. More self discipline!) I didn’t want an exact mirror of the Dhampyr "Grab and suck" power. For one thing, having played a Dhampyr, that power sucks. (Sigh…) In any well-balanced group, you almost never want to waste two actions just to spend a healing surge. I also wanted to keep playing up the idea of zombies as savage, vicious, uncontrolled. In my experience, any minor action that lets you do damage is great, even if the damage is minor. The ongoing damage is the bloody icing. The temporary hit points represent the fact your’re not spending your own resources (healing surges) — you’re drawing directly off the life-force of your foes. (If healing surges were generally important to NPCs, I’d use a "target loses a healing surge" mechanic, but NPCs tend to have few surges and no way to spend them, making that mechanic not especially useful. Depriving the enemy of something he can’t use isn’t a good use of your resources. (And for things like solos, which can and do use them, it’s overpowered, as a good chunk of a solo’s toughness is wrapped up in that "And then the dragon spends a healing surge…" mechanic, a phrase which always generates groans and whines of protest from the players.)
Final Note: I’d use a mechanic which inflicted a -1 to Diplomacy for each Zombie Bloodline feat a PC takes, but a general design pattern in 4e is to never, or very rarely, bundle mechanical drawbacks with mechanical benefits. Part of this is simplification; part is to avoid the cheese factor of someone who never uses a particular skill being "penalized" in it; part of it is not wanting to force the Special Snowflakes to have to make hard choices about advantages and disadvantages. In any event, I’m throwing the idea out there for those who want to play with it. Even if there’s no mechanical effect, the DM ought to work with the player to make sure that this whole bloodline isn’t just an excuse for some k3w1 p0w3rz. There’s plenty of angst potential here, and once people realize they’re talking to/dealing with someone who has crossed the line between life and death and clawed his way back, it ought to play into their reactions. Religious folks may denounce him; paladins of the Raven Queen may call him an abomination and seek to kill him (or they may see him as an emissary from the land of death and want his advice/insight); necromancers might want to dissect him. Unlke half-vampires, there’s no element of elegant romanticism here, no generation-long cults and hidden families; anyone with this bloodline is a rare creature, one consumed by violent impulses and a lust for living flesh. And braaaains!