Each of the (maybe nine? Maybe twelve?) Dwarven kingdoms are divided into gards, delves, and nexuses.
- Gards are the capital cities, or other places of similar size and importance. Their names reflect their status, e.g. Sholgard, Durgard, Voldingard, Margard. They are the centers of trade and politics, and often learning as well. The rulers and the bulk of the aristocracy can be found in the gards, as can all sorts of merchants and the more specialized sorts of craftsmen and scholars -- along with all the clerks and workers and menials who support them. Each gard will have its own legion, and each will have a provision district devoted to providing food for the city (both as necessary infrastructure and in case of an unexpected siege). Provision districts are usually twice the size of the gard proper, and only accessible from it. Guilds are an inescapable fact of life in the gards (and to a lesser extent elsewhere), controlling and championing any number of industries. In the mountains, gards are built in large caverns or connected sets of smaller caverns that form distinct districts; in the hills, gards are stone citadels standing watch over the lands that support them. Most kingdoms have two or three gards; the largest has six, and the smallest but one.
(Note: part of the theological terminology for this world includes Asgard as the home of the Gods and Midgard as the mortal world, which the gods are prevented from entering by the Compact. So this bit of terminology might be confusing, and we might need to come up with something else. Or... maybe there's a Dwarven capital called Midgard, and a long-standing claim that the entire realm is named for that one kingdom.)
- Delves are the smaller towns and villages, generally self-supporting, built outside the gards but usually still beholden to them. Most delves are built around some particular feature: a vein of ore, an unusual cavern or geological feature, a source of nourishment. (Some, however, are simply the result of a particular group of people who disliked where they were and decided that they preferred to carve out -- literally -- a place of their own. Many of these are monasteries, but some are effectively exiles: communities of political dissidents, homes to disgraced Houses, or artists and artisans seeking some relatively isolated location in which to work.) As with the gards, the names of delves generally reflect their origins: Deepwalldelve, Riverdelve, Goldendelve, Northern Mithrildelve, Stonefistdelve Monastery, Westernmost Sculptordelve, Eldritchdelve, Al'culdelve, Grazingdelve. A delve may have a local mayor, or even a minor aristocrat to coordinate things and resolve disputes. In the hills, they more closely resemble human towns and villages, but are generally built of (and walled with) stone.
- Nexuses are less than villages but more than crossroads. They are places where well-traveled tunnels intersect, and the goods and services there exist to meet the needs of travelers and traders. A small nexus may have nothing more than an inn that doubles as a general store; a larger one may offer a choice of inns, taverns, and trading outposts, and include woodworkers and blacksmiths who can make repairs to wagons, tack, and other equipment as needed. The primary distinction between a delve and a nexus is that delves are generally self-sufficient (however barely) while a nexus generally relies on travelers and traders for its existence. They are generally too small and/or remote to have anything like a formal local government, but the largest may have a mayor or council to make rulings and moderate disputes. Under the mountains, a nexus will offer a number of well-labeled doorways into the stone around the tunnels; in the hills, they will be a handful of stone buildings where several roads come together.
- There are a few hermits living in small caves or shrines, some very far off the main roads, but this is very rare and usually temporary. Some monks or clerics take vows that require such a lifestyle, but Dwarves usually don't have "frontier" families venturing out into the unexplored caverns on their own; if a new settlement is to be established, it will be a well-organized and communal endeavor. Isolated families of dwarves are far more common in the hills than they are in the mountains, and even then they usually live in non-Dwarven cities. The Mountain Dwarves find this sort of behavior somewhat horrifying, and "You behave as if you were solitary," is a damning condemnation of someone's manners or conduct.
...Honestly, this is mostly a terminology post. As we develop this, we'll want to flesh out the individual traits of the kingdoms and the distinctive features of the more important gards, delves, and nexuses.