I've played Bauldur's Gate since it first came out on OS9 back in '99 or '00. My most common companions are probably Imoen, Khalid, Jaheira, Branwen, and Kivan. I had never or rarely played certain NPCs, generally if they didn't fit or were tough to get to. After reading this forum, I've made a few runs where I blitzed to Chapter 5 so I can pick up some of the others, and they are largely worth it. My current party has Quayle, Skie, Yeslick, and Faldorn, plus CHARNAME (swashbuckler) and Kivan.
Alora is awesome, now that her rabbit's foot works. I let her pick off enemies with a bow or throwing daggers, or have her sneak in for a backstab. (I always imagine her saying "Tickle tickle!" as the dagger plunges in.) Plus, with her pickpocket scores, she could steal the underwear off a caffeinated ogre that's on guard duty. And her personality is great, the opposite of what an adventurer's expected to be. Add a couple pop culture references, including Ren and Stimpy, and I'm sold.
Skie, it turns out, is a darn solid thief. No one can beat Alora, but she's on par with Imoen and Safana, if not precisely their equal. I also find her spoiled rich girl talk funny, but then we live in the 1%-er school district and it's deliciously sarcastic to me. *bacstab* "I broke a nail." *backstab* Yep, that sounds like this suburb. The only points against her are that she can't dual to a mage (not a big deal to me, YMMV), she shows up late, and is tied to Eldoth.
Eldoth is, IMnsHO, not worth it. He's not much better than Garrick, statistically, and of course Garrick can be obtained way earlier. Also, being evil, Eldoth can put a crimp on your reputation score to keep him around if you happen to be playing a paladin. His poison arrows are nice (whenever he generates them, I hear Martin Fry of ABC croon "shoot that poison arrow through my hea-ea-ea-eart!") but his THAC0 is poor enough that he *needs* them. And his personality grates on me. There is no humor in his comments, unlike other NPCs. Not long after recruiting Skie, I had him dump inventory and check out the rumor of a basilisk in a warehouse, and oops, oh well.
Faldorn rocks. Jaheira may be better in power gaming terms, but Faldorn in ankheg armor, throwing darts at mages to disrupt spells or summoning insects, is great. Her special summoning is quite useful, even late in the game, the shapeshifting helps if someone sneaks past the tank, and she is great as a healer/summoner. With a spear she makes a decent second-line fighter. Those level 5 spells make a big difference late in the game. Plus her broody bitterness matches my own personality.
I wish you could get to Yeslick earlier. I understand why he is where he is, the plot being the plot, but he is a great companion for a good party. He's a damn good tank; his cleric buffs and shorty saves rock. I wish his strength were higher, but you can't have everything. He also has some funny comments, which I always find a plus. (References to Tennessee Ernie Ford *and* The Three Little Pigs? Sign me up!) Unfortunately his low intelligence means he can't use wands or scrolls, but he's easily the equal of Branwen; if only he mentioned strapping buttocks.
i've often used Coran, as have many, so I will just reiterate that he is an awesome archer, has funny dialogue with Safana, and is my go-to for hierarchy if I dual Imoen.
Quayle is great although his personality is not everyone's cup of tea. In my current run I have him using the wizard's ring and had him using the cleric's ring. He could never get through all the spells. There are better wizards, there are better clerics, but there is no better *spellcaster* in the game. His low intelligence means you must be careful what he scribes to his spell book, and being specialist (illusion) does limit him, but he's a handy NPC to have around. Plus he can annoy other party members, which is fun.
I haven't tried Tiax yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I plan on my next run being evil-aligned just so I can add him, and maybe Xan and Shar-Teel, whom I haven't recruited in a long time.
If you haven't tried them, make a blitz for some of the late gamers. They aren't always the most OP characters, but they add a flavor you might have missed before, and that's half the fun, isn't it?