I also am not too keen on building up a elaborate structure of nations and peerage and knightly orders and high society. It might be fun to play a court intrigue game, but in that case there are probably better systems for it. I could just ignore social constructs all together but I have an idea that it would be hard to explain away who runs the roads and protects the towns from the goblins and bandits. I like the idea of some simple feudal structure because it's simple to understand and you can build dramatic stories in it. It also explains how them solders and castles and roads get paid for. I think that a good way to do this is to make the setting conform to a small map and a fairly new and smallish kingdom surrounded by unexplored territories. Like this map from back in September:
Looking at that map I can think of some things happening there - the city is the largest population, it presumably controls the shipping trade (with who?) and would command the coast and the island and probably be the most wealthy with all that trade, the wine and fish and livestock. It would be the place where the Ruler would be. The tower and the two keeps would be places where large forces of fighting men were - obviously to protect the surrounding lands (and tax the inhabitants). Really that's 3 powerful nobles - lets call them Counts for now although they might be the Ruler's children, his relations or simply very good fighting men. The Count in the tower to the south west would have access to the output of the mines and the two nearby towns. The Count in the middle keep would have those 3 towns all that grazing land to manage. The Count in the eastern keep would have a bit of everything, mines, lake towns and the river town in their domain. Something like this:
|The 4 counties|
The Ruler is the strongest of the counts who tax the the towns (governors or mayors) and the landowners (the landed gentry). Freemen live in the cities and do trade and business. Peasantry live on the land and farm and supply men for the army. Simple. Also where there is trade and craft - there are guilds.
That leaves some territories and towns outside, either as independent or as parts of other political organizations for foreign traders, elves, dwarfs and gnomes to come from. There's also those ruins up in the northeast - well this isn't the first kingdom to hold these lands.