Crafting aside...

I like the idea of a commoner lackey.

What about leadership coming in tiers.
Feat 1: commoner lackey of half your level.
Feat 2: PC class cohort of your level -3.
Feat 3: minion npc adventerer group of your level -6.
Feat 4: hordes of level 1 commoners with level 3 warriors and a level 5 aristocrat acting as leadership.

The horde could be 10 guys per point of leadership ranking or some such.

4 feats before the army.