Here's a suggestion, what about more uses for the generic NPC villager/town-goer?
By this I mean things other than rumor mongering and the rare conversation where you can help out the NPC for a small bonus to the village or town where they live. Perhaps, other things such as in poverty stricken areas being able to have a chance to pay an NPC so they can buy food, etc. Or perhaps tracking down other NPC's in the same town or other towns, and so on, similar to the spy quest (where you take information and give it back to the quest giver).
Just in general giving NPC's just a tiny more importance than they usually are.
Another idea is adding an effect for the "avatars" that symbolize characters, and armies on the world map, by perhaps changing the "avatar" by the amount of soldiers or individuals in each party. So if a king is walking by, it would not just appear to be one lone rider, but a small retinue, perhaps. Just a thought, perhaps using a percentage of the amount of soldiers in a party to increase or decrease the amount of individuals symbolizing a party on the map. So 100 soldiers would be shown as 5, or so, on the map, and so on and so forth.
Also, maybe a way to change an "avatar" for ourselves, such as when we achieve a certain amount of renown, or become a king, vassal, etc. the "avatar" could change, or maybe have the choice to do so. So that when we are commanding an army we don't look like a peasant when we are not mounted.
On a side note, perhaps some more "quests" that are similar to the belligerent Drunk, in taverns, but don't necessarily mean combat.