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I know how this works in 3.5/Pathfinder (GM Approval + Level Adjustment) but I can't find anything in any of the Dungeon Master's Guides about applying them to Player Characters.

For example, if a PC was bitten by a vampire, could I apply a Vampire Thrall template to them? Or, would these changes have to be covered through Feats instead?

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Templates are not for PCs. That kind of change should be covered by retraining to an appropriate theme or rebuilding the character as a vryloka or even a hybrid vampire|whatever (though vampire is a terrible class). –  Oblivious Sage Oct 8 '13 at 0:32
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@ObliviousSage That's an answer - post it as one so I can upvote it, won't you? :P –  doppelgreener Oct 8 '13 at 0:48

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No

In 4th edition, Player Characters are distinctly different from Monsters (which include NPCs). The core rules and balance behind both PCs and Monsters is inherently incompatible.

For the example you've given, I'd have the player change their class to the vampire class (accessible via D&D Insider Dragon magazine and Character Builder Tool) or as you say allow some feat changes to show the extreme differences. Also I agree with Oblivious Sage that its actually a terrible class and I also think the vryloka (sorta vampire race) is a terrible race choice as well. Why not make him being a vampire be something that affects him from a story perspective, but he is still the same race and class combo. There may even be magical items or alternate rewards (like boons) that replicate vampriric qualities.

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I'm not too familiar with Vampire since it came out just as my 4e group was winding down, but you could allow some Vampire multiclass feats and ignore the pre-reqs (or, give it to him for free even). That would allow the character to qualify for a lot of vampire-only stuff and still be (reasonably) mechanically sound as far as character balance. –  Ellesedil Oct 8 '13 at 17:20
    
The vampire multiclass gives you blood drinker, which lets you gain surges, but it doesn't give you an extra way to spend those surges. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 8 '13 at 18:04
    
I guess it depends on what the base class is as to how useful extra surges would be, then. –  Ellesedil Oct 8 '13 at 19:52

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