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Wretched Hive

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Gin Lane: Not a good place for a holiday.

"Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

Take the worst, grimmest and darkest side of society, give them a place where all their sins are given free roam to be expressed, collect it into a system that can just barely sustain itself and you get the Wretched Hive.

It will be a mostly lawless setting, usually (over) populated by criminals. There may be no actual government in this Wild West or Scavenger World because it is miles or light years away from civilization, and if there is it's probably a Dystopia that's corrupt, incompetent, obstructive or perhaps just uncaring enough to not bother to spread its reach to all corners of society. If this hive has any truly good authorities, expect them to be extremely overworked, incapable of controlling the skyrocketing crime everywhere, or just too idealistic to survive. An alternative is to have it as a gang-like system ruled by a mob boss, Big Bad or Evil Overlord who allows evil, but only to a certain standard. It could be truly lawless with no authority other than the big stick you carry with you.


In many cases, the economy is no better. If this is true, facilities are usually falling apart, and the subways and buses are often full of crooks and junkies. And they're always late. Any schools in this place will almost inevitably be impoverished or sadistic. The roads may be cracked and broken, with a Trashcan Bonfire every fifty feet or so. Many buildings have been abandoned, to be occupied by vermin, hobos, or criminals. Decent jobs are few and far between. Housing (if you can get it) is unsafe, filthy, and overcrowded. In short, poverty is the norm, not the exception.

However, prosperous and affluent settings can also qualify as this trope. While people are more likely to be in decent financial shape, don't expect things to be any better in terms of morality. At most, there's a pleasant façade to conceal the rot within. Sleazy, immoral decadence is frequently rife, and may not even be particularly hidden—if it is at all. Non-impoverished examples are arguably worse, ethically and morally speaking, since the inhabitants don't have deprivation as an explanation for the things they do.


This lawless setting is often wonderful for allowing all varieties of creativity, ideas and/or tropes to flow in, be played and interact in interesting ways, and many plot conveniences that the protagonists need to get away with doing active work rather than just handing problems over to the police or running into Fridge Logic when they don't get arrested for taking the law into their own hands, while there are several takes on all sorts of unlawful or devious acts. Gangs, cons, gambling, underground fighting, rampant prostitution, a thriving black market (ranging from one guy with some watches under his coat to a literal market), jaywalking and many more. This can be portrayed as anything from guilty fun or the inevitable underbelly of humanity to constant danger. The heroes can always find some misdeed around them to solve and the villains will have little problem finding a safe hideout or Bad-Guy Bar to get together and plot schemes.

The Wretched Hive has a few Sub Tropes in increasing size:

  • Den of Iniquity: A room in the Big Bad's lair where the mooks get to indulge in various forms of debauchery.
  • Bad-Guy Bar: A tavern of ill repute where the crooks get together to scheme or get a drink. The tenuous peace is only held together by The Bartender and his Bouncers. Bar room brawls and aggressive drunks optional.
  • No-Tell Motel: A motel that serves as a nexus for all sorts of criminal activity and as a place for fugitives to hide out for a day or two. The owners don't care - as long as people pay and don't create too many problems for them, they'll happily ignore whatever goes on there.
  • The City Narrows: The back alley to the entire town; a small section of a city that has a bad name for a good reason and gets avoided by decent folk with any sense.
  • Red Light District: A street, block, or even complete district of a city devoted to prostitution and other illicit trades.
  • Outlaw Town: A settlement run by criminals, for the benefit of criminals.
  • Dying Town: A town or city whose reason for existence disappeared a long time ago and left behind those who couldn't get out; when you have a lot of poor, desperate people in the same place, some of them will inevitably turn to crime, and that same desperation will also bring plenty of other social problems.
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor: A port, harbour or coastal town that has fallen into wretchedness due to the flux of sailors and pirates and the sort of rough entertainment they desire.
  • Totalitarian Gangsterism: When criminals ruling over said area abuse civilians in every way like a dictatorship would.
  • Vice City: An entire urban sprawl that has fallen to wretchedness including its authorities which provide little sense of escape but also little constraint. Often overlaps with City Noir.
  • Soiled City on a Hill: A city so far gone it is beyond saving. Wipe it off the map and start again.
  • Urban Hellscape: A glimpse 20 Minutes into the Future where violent crime rules the streets and police are either incompetent or have to be even more brutal to stop it.

See also Gangster Land, City Noir or Industrial Ghetto. When Real Life New York City is portrayed this way, it's The Big Rotten Apple. Has nothing to do with bees.

Often paired with Crapsack World, but differs in that while the setting is less than ideal, the people in it need not be unhappy or universally sociopathic, nor is the worst result the most likely to happen. For cities which literally look like hives, see Hive City; notably, Hive Cities also tend to be Wretched Hives more often than not.

Opposite of the Sugar Bowl and Utopia in general, and Shining City more specifically. If the Wretched Hive improves over time, then it becomes a Heel–Face Town.

If an example fits into one of the more specific sub-tropes better, please list it there, rather than on this page.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • Dogpatch, the setting of Li'l Abner, is described by creator Al Capp as "an average stone-age community nestled in a bleak valley, between two cheap and uninteresting hills somewhere." An extreme exaggeration of burlesque stereotypes of Appalachia, the place is a ramshackle backwater town full poorly made log cabins, neglected turnip farms and hog wallows, and half the inhabitants are lazy, dirty, ignorant, and with a few exceptions, ugly; the other half are scoundrels and thieves. The place was founded by Confederate General Jubilation T. Cornpone, a woefully incompetent general and notorious coward. (The statue in the town square was donated by a grateful President Abraham Lincoln, as said incompetence was a key factor in the Union's victory; Dogpatch residents are proud of this.) Of course, there's a good reason the town was designed this way. As the strip was introduced to the public during The Great Depression, Capp used it to let Americans laugh at people worse off than they were.
  • Calia, the so-called "Republic of Desperados" that was founded by escapees from Devil's Island, appears in the Modesty Blaise serial "The Jericho Caper".

  • Titan, the official setting for the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, has a couple of these.
    • One of the most notorious is Port Blacksand, well-known as the City of Thieves. It is a ramshackle collection of pirates, thieves and murderers who'd slit their mothers' throats for a few copper pieces (if mommy didn't get them first).
    • In the Sorcery! spin-off, Kharé is called the Cityport of Traps. A debauched collection of cultists and slavers of every conceivable race, who only manage to live together without killing each other because their city is the only thing resembling civilization in a wild, hellish wasteland.
  • Lone Wolf:
    • Ragadorn, main city of the Wildlands. It's a big commercial hub, but it's also teeming with thieves and cutthroats. The lord of the town and his Secret Police are no better.
    • Vakovar, in Magador, even more so. At least by the time Lone Wolf visits it, it's full of brigands. The worst part is that the current state of affairs is apparently an improvement over what it was like back when the Darklords were still in power.

  • In the Alestorm song "Nancy the Tavern Wench", the eponymous Nancy's tavern is such a hive.
  • The world set in "The Money Store" from Death Grips seems to be this, and at the same time it manages to be a blast to head-bang to.
  • Guns N' Roses' song "Welcome to the Jungle" also depicts a Wretched Hive. In fact, the line "You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby! You're gonna die!" was said by a cab driver to Axl Rose during a trip to visit a friend.
  • Mötley Crüe's song "Wild Side" takes place in a Wretched Hive.
  • Savatage's Streets: A Rock Opera depicts New York City as a grim and miserable place filled with criminals, drugs, and Apathetic Citizens who will watch a man die rather then help.
  • The street in the Space song "Neighbourhood" is definitely one. It's got an Omnicidal Maniac, an Ax-Crazy vicar and a family of criminals, amongst others.
  • Suede's "We are the Pigs" is set in a distinctly dystopian city.
  • The song "Night City", by The Sword, is about such a place — a metropolis on the dark side of a tidally-locked planet, ruled by slavers and pirates.
  • Warren Zevon's Transverse City, which opens:
    Told my little Pollyanna
    There's a place for you and me
    We'll go down to Transverse City
    Life is cheap and Death is free
  • "Colisseum" by Russian rock-band "Aria" depicts Rome as such:
    ''Crazy Rome was cursed by the gods
    City of cripples and widows yeah.
    People breathe in the toxic smoke here
    Cut their veins open with blades
    Here on holidays they go and watch
    People suffer and writhe in agony
    Ruthless death has its feast
    On the floor of the screaming arena."

    Mythology & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • Hell is this in some interpretations, like "eternal separation from God". Believers consider this to be terrifying enough.
    • Sodom, Gomorrah, and Ninevah as portrayed in The Bible. Sodom and Gomorrah were considered so vile that nothing short of divine obliteration was enough to clean them. This trope was actually subverted in the case of Ninevah. God told Jonah to preach the people there to repent, or else the city would be destroyed in three days. The king of Ninevah saw the error of his ways and told his people to mourn in sackcloth and ashes in hopes that they would be spared. God did not destroy the city, much to Jonah's chagrin. The last part of the book of Jonah is God giving Jonah a big "The Reason You Suck" Speech because he would rather see thousands of people die than come to repentance. Sodom's population has been estimated by some to be between 600 and 1200 at the time of its destruction. And in all the city, not ten righteous men could be found, thus God destroyed it.
    • After King Solomon's reign, Israel divides itself North and South, and lots of corruption and idolatry take place. And then it goes From Bad to Worse as they got involved in wars with neighboring nations such as the Assyrians.

  • The fallen space port of Svoboda in Nexus Gate fits the bill. It is controlled by crime syndicates and the playground of criminals of every stripe. Kovolis holds no stake in the port's ground.
  • Survival of the Fittest has this with Denton, New Jersey. Criminal gangs are everywhere in the city, which is practically run by the most powerful of them instead of by the Mayor himself, as the whole police force is either too corrupt or too inept to do anything. Like any other gangs, they've divided the city up between themselves, and they maintain a tense peace between them, as the bloodshed brought by a gang war is bad for business. Even then, though, shootouts and gang brawls are common, while anyone who sticks their nose in the wrong place turns up dead. This is considered highly unusual in SOTF's world, though, and no other city that has been seen is quite as bad as Denton. This came about as an attempt to justify all the gang members in Pregame, and the city apparently disintegrated into full-scale warfare after v2.

  • Fort Pike from ''The Hammer Trinity.
  • Thenardier's Inn in Les Misérables. Bonus points for the fact that Thenardier himself describes it as much in "Master of the House".
  • The title city of Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
  • The entirety of London in Sweeney Todd:
    There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
    And the vermin of the world inhabit it
    And it's morals aren't worth what a pig can spit
    And it goes by the name of London
  • Richard's explanation in Thrill Me of why he and Nathan wouldn't get caught if they murdered a kid is, "there's no shortage of perverts they could blame it on" — basically presenting Chicago as one of these.

    Web Original 
  • Pretending to Be People features two:
    • There's The Den of Sin, where the rich and powerful watch people fight to the death and drink their blood.
    • There's The Scrap Pit, where more common people come to watch contestants fight against a suitably-terrifying opponent.
  • RationalWiki uses the Trope Namer quote to describe 4chan.
  • After the events of Extermination in Worm, parts of Brockton Bay have become this. Imagine New Orleans right after Katrina, with super powered criminals and psychos who regularly steal supplies and worse. Then it went From Bad to Worse and the government considers condemning the entire area.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy



Cowsick is an estate ridden with so much crime and poverty, that pedestrians are hijacked instead of cars.

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