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Keep your party full for maximum character interactions and subplots. If you accept a seventh NPC, Baldurs Gate 2 will simply ask you to remove one of the current ones to make room. Don't remove characters you're romancing, as it kills the romance and you won't be able to restart it. (The Jaheira romance is occasionally an exception.) Haerdalis, oddly, will demand a sniveling apology to rejoin with you after you've dumped him once, and Korgan will demand you pay him 500 gold, but other than that the NPCs will all accept being switched in and out, and doing this lets you learn about the most characters and do the most plots. One of the few flaws in Baldur's Gate 2 is that the characters act hurt and upset if you remove them from the party. (Nalia actually started crying once!) Given that the six-character limit is such an artificial constraint (in real life, you don't need one friend to leave if you want to talk to a new person), I really wish the Baldur's Gate people would stop using that constraint as an excuse to taunt us. It's hard to suspend your disbelief when your NPCs are all whining "Don't you like me anymore?" whenever you rearrange the party. The guilt trips given by Anomen and Minsc are relatively mild and they both wait in the Copper Coronet for you, so they are probably the easiest Shadows of Amn characters to switch in and out without it being called too strongly to your attention.

Baldur's Gate character combinations which are bone-headedly bad ideas but nonetheless amusing: Minsc and Edwin. (Remember they were bitter enemies from Baldur's Gate 1.) Keldorn and Viconia. (He's an Inquisitor, and she's a heathen.) Korgan and Aerie. (He's so rude she'll actually leave! Even Viconia couldn't make her do that...) You can have Aerie, Jaheira, and/or Viconia in the same party, but if you're a guy, they'll cat-fight till you choose one of them.

The Sixteen Baldur's Gate II Characters:

Imoen is your adoptive sister and best bud from Baldur's Gate 1, though they've changed her portrait in an apparent attempt to make her look younger and more imperilled. They've also given her a bright pink dye job and bad hair. (Imoen's original picture is still in the image gallery, so you can change her portrait back yourself if you like by switching NIMOENS and NIMOENM with IMOENS and IMOENM.) Immie is a good mage-thief combination, though her disappearance for a long chunk of Shadows of Amn hurts her usefulness. In the beginning section, you get her by default, and she has some very interesting character development. Once you recover her, you'll have far surpassed her in level, but she's got a lot of drama associated with her and is the most interesting Shadows of Amn character to have along on the hunt for Irenicus. Incidentally, the mysterious unremovable "Imoen's Belt" she starts the game with--which Irenicus seemed to have removed, ickily enough!--isn't actually a plot element at all, just a gameplay device. The belt keeps her from being killed while she is still necessary for cutscenes and other unalterable plot purposes. D'oh!

Jaheira is another friend from Baldur's Gate 1 victimized by Shadows of Amn's bizarre ugly-pigtail fetish. Her new look wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't patently unnecessary, as the much prettier original portrait is, like Imoen's, still in their image gallery (change NJAHEIRS and NJAHEIRM to JAHEIRAS and JAHEIRAM to put her back the way nature made her. (-: ) Ratty hair or not, Jaheira is by far the Baldur's Gate 2 character with the most complicated and interesting subplots. There are at least three Shadows of Amn quests you cannot do without her (Jaheira And The Harpers, Jaheira's Romance, and Jaheira's Curse, the first two of which are complex with many sub-quests), and she is also the NPC with the most to say about the other quests you find yourself on, including conversations with every other party member. Jaheira's romance AI does not reset if she leaves the party, something she has to do twice in the course of her subplots--however, she will leave the party for good if you kick her out more than once while pursuing a romance with her, so watch yourself. If you are not romancing her, then like any other NPC, she can be swapped in and out of the party at will.

Minsc is another old Baldur's Gate 1 friend, and presents a tough decision. He has no quests associated with him. (If Minsc is in your party the boy who asks you to go to Umar Hills will come to you instead of waiting for you to come to him, but nothing else about this plot changes with Minsc around.) He has a worthwhile character arc with Aerie, if they're together in your party, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making him go berserk if she takes heavy damage no matter where he's standing at the time. Minsc can be a major source of party deaths. Worse, he's the only Baldurs Gate 2 character who actively cheats you out of a plot, by getting angry and initiating combat with someone you could otherwise talk to. His running commentary with his pet hamster Boo is worth the price of the game alone, however. If you do take him, remember that he hates Edwin and may try to kill him; he'll form close friendships with Mazzy and Keldorn, and the latter can even talk him down from berserking once the battle's over.

Yoshimo is the best thief in the game and has a really cool subplot in Spellhold, as well as one quest, Yoshimo's Heart, which you cannot do without him. I don't want to give anything away, but if you're into the character dramas I really recommend him for the early part of Shadows of Amn. Yoshimo had a couple of very interesting conversations with Haerdalis, one with Nalia, and several teasing ones with Anomen. His action comments are among the best in the game, riffing humorously off various Asian sources (from kung-fu movies to Iron Chef!) while still being relevant enough not to disrupt play.

Aerie is a waiflike fairy who lost her wings to infection while she was a slave in a circus. And she NEVER LETS YOU FORGET IT. Depending on your point of view, she is a haunting character trying to overcome childhood abuse to become a person who can make a difference in the world, or an unbelievably whiny self-absorbed brat. I could go either way on it. She's one of the earliest available characters, so you might as well give her a chance for a while and see how you like her. A male character can try Aerie's Romance, or Haerdalis may have his own romance with her. The two of you may even have to fight over her, believe it or not. The Aerie romance can be difficult, not because she's hard to interest in a relationship (she'll fall for you even if you're rude to her,) but because she will keep picking on Jaheira by insulting your dead friend Khalid, and if you tell her to shut up it will not only end the romance but she will leave the party forever--with all your stuff! To win Aerie, you will eventually have to not only accept her mocking dead people, but agree not to be friends with Jaheira anymore. How whipped is THAT? So if you really want a romance with Aerie, I suggest either leaving Jaheira behind or recruiting Viconia as well, thus eliminating the Khalid sequences. Aerie has no quests of her own besides the romance (if you have her in your party, Quayle will provide you with a lead-in to the Captured Actor quest, but you can find this quest easily without her and she has nothing to add to it.) Aerie has interesting interactions with Minsc, Haerdalis, Korgan, and Jaheira (if there is no romantic conflict, Aerie takes Jaheira's "have more respect for yourself" comments as positive maternal advice rather than an invitation to a catfight.) Be warned, Aerie will get fed up with Korgan and leave your party forever (again, with all your stuff!) if you try to keep them together for too long. She will give you 24 hour advance notice, though.

Nalia really should be in your party for at least a little while for the Save De'Arnise Keep quest. (You can do it without her, but her commentary makes it more interesting.) If you're a fighter you may want her the whole game, since your Stronghold quests will involve her keep. Either way, she'll have another interesting personal plot later on, Nalia's Annoying Relatives. She also had interesting interactions with Yoshimo and Mazzy. To tell the truth, Nalia was my least favorite NPC. She's the worst of both worlds: a rich spoiled brat who thinks the world owes her everything, and at the same time a goody-two-shoes constantly putting you down for not doing enough to help the needy (even if you're currently in the process of rescuing little kids from slavers or something... she also chastises you whenever you give money to a beggar for not giving him more!) Her attitude is more irritating than Anomen's, but unlike with Anomen, you get neither the opportunity to tell her so nor the chance to turn her into a better person. To top it all off, she looks almost exactly like Immie (sans the pink dye) and has similar, but inferior, abilities. Her subplots are good, though, if you can put up with her full-of-herself noblesse oblige.

Anomen has a pompous attitude but a cool story arc where you can really change the course of his life, making him a better person, a more effective cleric, and a less irritating compatriot. There are three quests you cannot do without him: Anomen's Sister, Anomen's Knighthood, and Anomen Romance (for female characters only). The second is short and the other two are flawed, but they are still interesting. Anomen's best character interactions are with Keldorn--this subplot, like the one between Aerie and Haerdalis, plays out over the course of multiple conversations and ends with a satisfying resolution. The talkative Anomen also has conversations with Aerie and Jaheira, banters with Yoshimo and Haerdalis, argues with Nalia about the nature of charity, and flirts a bit with Viconia of all people. The true complexity of Anomen's personality will only be revealed if you are romancing him, but even if you're not, he can develop in two general directions. If he fails his test, be warned that Aerie and/or Keldorn may accidentally goad him into attacking them.

Viconia is another returning character from Baldur's Gate I, an exiled drow with culture shock and a very interesting backstory. Like other evil characters, Viconia will bitch and moan constantly if your reputation gets above average--a real flaw in the game, in my opinion, especially since that kind of proselytizing is not consistent with Viconia's personality as it's portrayed in her conversations. (She won't stop taunting Aerie and Jaheira, either, but that part's in character.) If your character is male you can have a Romance With Viconia, and since she's got the sultriest lines and is the only woman in Baldur's Gate 2 who doesn't wear her hair in lots of natty rubber-banded pigtails, this has a certain appeal to it. (Be warned that Viconia's romance will not end satisfyingly in Shadows of Amn no matter what you do, but if you continue into Throne of Bhaal you can get a happy ending out of it.)

Korgan's main character trait is insulting all the other party members. The only character he seems to get along with is Mazzy, who soldiers through his crude passes sufficiently to form a friendship with him and coax some of his backstory and worldview out of him. Good luck keeping both of them together in the party long enough for this to happen, as the evil Korgan will complain if your reputation is above average and the paladin Mazzy will complain if it is below average. Korgan actually drives Aerie out of the party if you keep the two of them around very long. He does have one quest which you can finish fairly quickly (and can't finish without him)--Korgan's Book. Korgan will, by the way, require you to pay him to join you after you ditch him once.

Valygar has a strong personality but not one that translates so well across the computer divide. He has a difficult backstory and an old bitterness vying with a desire to do the right thing. I found him interesting but very underdrawn. If he had half as much attention to his character as Anomen does he would have been a really great character. Valygar looks like an American football player (no neck and a fighting grimace) and his action sprite is hideous (the "black" skin color is sort of a metallic copper and the "black" hair is shiny silver, making him look like an X-Man circa 1985. Bioware could REALLY REALLY use some better non-Caucasian palette colors for their sprites, here.) You need Val in your party for a little while if you intend to do the Planar Sphere quest. Valygar also gets a small subplot with a mercenary ex-lover of his, and he'll talk about himself a little over time, particularly if Keldorn, Haerdalis, and Jan are around. Surprisingly enough, Mazzy is extremely rude to him, though he generally bears this well. He also has a strange interplay with Viconia-- on several occasions women on the map make passes at Valygar, who starts to respond but then pulls away, and Viconia taunts him by questioning his manhood. My suspicion is that Val was intended to have a subplot about maintaining celibacy in the face of his family curse, but that this subplot was deleted for lack of programming time. If so, it's a pity--Valygar is the one character I came out of Baldur's Gate 2 wanting to know more about.

Cernd comes with the When Animals Attack plot. You do not have to have him with you to do this plot, though he will contribute some information about it if you take him with. Cernd is a decent, determined, pleasant enough guy without much to say beyond the occasional trite comment on the greatness of nature. Too bad he doesn't have a more outgoing personality; he's by far the most attractive male NPC. Cernd has one rather mean-spirited subplot, Cernd's Baby, which you can access by bringing him back to town with you. He will also talk over your backstory with you if you let him.

Haerdalis is an interesting character, though he's rather hard to rescue. He's a jack of all trades but master of none, which some people find versatile and other people find useless and annoying. He also isn't strictly necessary for any quests. (Two quests involve him-- The Captured Actor and The Planar Prison--but you don't need him in your party to do them.) He also has a subplot about wooing Aerie which can go in several directions depending on whether you are also romancing her and how you play it. He and Yoshimo had the best character action comments (I was particularly fond of the jaunty little tune Haerdalis would whistle in place of an action comment sometimes). The Aerie-Haerdalis romance is an interesting one despite the ornate flirting; Haerdalis also has exchanges with Jaheira, Anomen, Viconia, and most tellingly Yoshimo.

Edwin is a repeat character from Baldur's Gate I, the haughty evil mage on the bridge who wanted to kill Dynaheir. Frankly I'd killed him in Baldur's Gate I and wasn't expecting much from him this time, but when I gave him a chance, he was a riot and a half. His comments to those around him, particularly the children, are nasty but funny, and he gets his comeuppance in a really cool way. Without spoiling anything: let him keep the Nether Scroll once you've found it, and when he starts talking about it, act interested. After he uses it, go to the Copper Coronet and chat up Salvanas for some fireworks. Every other NPC in Shadows of Amn has hilarious exchanges with Edwin during this quest. Like Viconia and Korgan, Edwin will have hissy fits about your reputation if it's anything above average. The Nether Scroll quest requires Edwin to be in your party; you won't find it otherwise.

Jan is a gnomish inventor you can pick up in the Government District. He is extremely long-winded and has nothing of any importance to say most of the time. 95% of his conversations will be long, boring stories about turnips. I am not kidding. Despite this oppressively boring personality, Jan can be fun to have around, as he can use unique gadgets none of the others can. There is also one quest you can only get by bringing him with you--unfortunately, this is the worst-thought-out quest in Shadows of Amn, The Hidden. Jan's babbling is fairly harmless, and the other characters' threats to kill him are not serious; no violence will result from his presence, though nothing of much interest will, either. Jan does elicit an interesting story from Valygar after annoying him a few times. He is quite mean to Minsc, albeit in a funny way, and he crosses the line with Keldorn, in my opinion, by mocking the paladin's family situation. Most of the other party members also have irritated exchanges with him about his stupid pointless stories which are almost worth having to put up with the stories. Well, almost.

Keldorn is an older paladin who emanates a sort of weary dignity. The first plot he wants you to join him on is the Unseeing Eye cult, which you may take him on or not--he has nothing special to add to it or say about it while he's there. He gets another personal quest, though, Keldorn's Wife, which is short and definitely different than any of the other NPC's. Keldorn's interplay with Anomen was well worth seeing, and he also had some interesting conversations with Valygar and Minsc. He's also a racist, I'm afraid, and will try to kill Viconia if they're in the party together for too long. (She doesn't even have to say anything bitchy to provoke this.)

Mazzy is a classy halfling knight with a British accent who must be incredibly bitter over the ugly orange dreadlocks and ridiculous action sprite she's been saddled with. You can rescue her while on the Evil Of Umar Hills quest, and she's not necessary for that quest but worth taking along, as she has backstory there and offers some running commentary as she goes. She'll also get a bit of resolution at the end of it. Mazzy is necessary for one quest, Love Potion #9, and a second, extremely small encounter, The Ogre Bully, though these quests will not become available until several weeks after you first rescued her. She and Korgan also have some interesting dialogue. For some unfathomable reason, the otherwise well-mannered halfling is incredibly snotty to Valygar if he's around, ordering him to do menial chores for her because "I'm a knight and you should be happy to serve me." I have no idea why she considers herself particularly superior to Valygar and I couldn't get this to turn into a full-fledged subplot, so I just gave Mazzy the boot. Even Anomen wasn't ordering us to fix his breakfast just because he was a knight, man.

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