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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 or grimmest and darkest side of society, give them a place where all their sins are given free roam to be expressed, and 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.


The economy is often no better. Public 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 ever 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Opposite of the Sugar Bowl and Utopia in general, and Shining City more specifically.


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

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    Fan Works 
  • The Dark World segments of Dungeon Keeper Ami have a certain vibe that reads like this. Actually played with to some extent- the waylaying, slavery, debauchery, and general amorality aluded to is pretty typical and even expected of the underworlders. Further enforced by the various cults of the Dark Gods. Some of the cities are actually fairly clean, leading to Vice City feel.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction:
    Apple Bloom: This is my kinda town. Dark, crowded, full of ponies that aren't you two nut jobs.
    • In the Winningverse, and particularly in The Freeport Venture, there is Freeport, a Not-So-Safe Harbor run by a cabal of greedy merchant-princes, with guards so corrupt they are expected to supplement their income with bribes, and a haven for mercenaries, spies, and legalized piracy. Since it sits on an archipelago right between Equestria, Gryphonia, and Zebrica, none of those nations can make any move on it without the other two seeing it as a threat, which is what allows it to remain a Wretched Hive.
    • The Borderworld has Dragonfall, described as the murder capital of Equestria, which plays this trope for laughs.
  • In the eyes of the Psyche Master in Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, Smurf culture in general is seen as this.
  • In Gensokyo 20XXV, we have "The Forbiddens", which are considered to be a no man's land, and, compared to the rest of the setting, these are the worst places to be, especially if one be woman or child.
    Amoridere: The Forbiddens is where the worst of the crap that tends to occur in this society occurs. Women and, sometimes, children are sold into prostitution where they tend to die and children are traded for just about anything or killed just because, as well as the fact that most of those areas are laced with various traps, the which of include landmines, snares, bear-traps, and vicious dogs, on top of the fact that those areas are best know for their pollution and toxins, as well as its corrupting influences.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines portrays the Orre region this way. It's a barren wasteland where only the strong survive, and Cipher pretty much controls it. Agate Village is one of the few safe havens where they don't have any influence.
  • An important detail in the backstory of the Black Lagoon fiction "Cold Guns" is the subversion (leading to eventual defiance) of Roanapur's reputation as this kind of town — after the various insanely violent high-profile slaughters that have taken place in the series, the Thai government has finally had enough and sent the army to bring order back to the city by any means necessary. While Balalaika is a hard-core Blood Knight enough to decide to stand and fight the government, all of the other organizations that called the city their home (most importantly Lagoon Company) decided that discretion was the better part of valor and left while the leaving was good.

  • Titan, the official setting for the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, has a couple of these. The most notorious are Port Blacksand, well-known as the City of Thieves, and Khare, called the Cityport of Traps. One 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), and the other is 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 improvment over what it was like back when the Darklords were still in power.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Downbelow.
  • Blake's 7: Freedom City.
  • Deadwood: Deadwood itself. Eventually gets a telegraph, employs a sheriff and elects a mayor. Remains a place where the preferred way of getting rid of inconvenient corpses is by feeding them to Mr. Wu's pigs.
  • Game of Thrones: Quite a lot of King's Landing in the Crownlands can be said to be this underneath some lovely or even outright stunning architecture, in a Stepford Smiler kind of way. Flea Bottom, however, doesn't try masking what it is, at all.
  • Justified: Harlan County is the rural version. The sheriff's department is on the take, the economy depressed, and the when it comes to employment the choice is between criminal gangs and families like the Crowders and the Crowes, or the brutally oppressive Black Pike mining company. The Miami cartel, the Detroit Mob, and the latter's Dixie Mafia subsidiary all have their tentacles in the region, further worsening the violence and the crime rate, as different factions within them jockey with each other and local criminals for control of the county. That's not even mentioning the town of Bennett, which is ruled by the eponymous Bennett clan, who use the town as a front for their marijuana operation, or Noble's Holler, an all-black community that keeps their racist white neighbors at bay by playing the rest of the county's gangsters off against one another. We've yet to meet anyone from Harlan who isn't caught up in illegal activity of one sort or another, and the efforts of the protagonists seem to do little beyond creating swiftly filled power vacuums.
  • Masters of Horror: In the episode "Imprint", the remote island is "only inhabited by demons and whores".
  • Power Rangers in Space and Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: There's the wretched hive planet, Onyx. Well, it has this reputation, at least; for budget reasons we only ever see one town and its Bad-Guy Bar.
  • Revolution: All cities are apparently like this now: "If you were smart, you left the city. If you weren't, you died there."
  • Trailer Park Boys: Sunnyvale trailer park Nova Scotia, a mockumentary about three career criminal conmen, and their kin. This property is supervised by a drunk deranged discharged cop and his dimwitted obese underling. Overrun with feral children who randomly throw bottles at residences, and 3 career criminals who naturally cause hilarious hell during the course of the season which revolves around that seasons "Big Dirty" (career heist).
  • The Wire: Averted Trope. While the lion's share of the show takes place in neighborhoods of Baltimore where everyone is either a drug dealer or a drug addict, the show takes time out to illustrate there are nice parts of Baltimore. Further, it takes a close and careful look at how such disparate places can be so close together and yet so far apart. As Bubbles says when riding with McNulty in season 1, "Thin line 'tween heaven and here."
    • In season 3, Major Colvin's "Hamsterdam" - a project wherein he essentially legalizes drug usage in three designated areas in the Western District - shows what happens when you concentrate all West Baltimore crime in one place.
    • In the season 4 premiere, a lecturer is giving a presentation to Western District cops on counterterrorism. Santangelo isn't too impressed by the lecturer, eventually interrupting to say, "No disrespect to your appendix, but if them terrorists do fuck up the Western, could anybody even tell?" which draws laughter from the other cops as they take their turns poking jabs at the counterproductiveness of counterterrorism training in their district.
  • The Musketeers has the "Court of Miracles" where Porthos grew up.
  • The eponymous city on Gotham is this by definition. When the mob controls the cops, you know things are going to be ugly. Of course this is to help tie it into the Batman mythos.
  • The Fugitive. Richard Kimble encounters one in the ironically named episode "A Clean and Quiet Town".
  • Taboo: London is basically this, with the debauched excesses of the aristocracy, the brutal intrigues of warring nations, and the wealth, power, and privilege of amoral corporate executives serving to crush the common people beneath the heels of their masters.
  • Channel Zero: The Butcher's Block neighborhood of the city of Garret is a sacrifice zone which is completely rundown, with little-to-no infrastructure or police input, with criminals and crazy people all over the place. And that's not even getting into the Cannibal Clan of Ax-Crazy murderers running around abducting and eating people.

  • In the Alestorm song "Nancy the Tavern Wench", the titular Nancy's tavern is such a hive.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mötley Crüe's song "Wild Side" takes place in a Wretched Hive.
  • Suede's "We are the Pigs" is set in a distinctly dystopian city.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Hell, when it's not all fire and brimstone, 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.
  • In The Bible, 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40K: The Underhives, the lower sections of Hive Cities, are God-Emperor-forsaken places full of mutants, gangers, cultists and very cheap lives. The Gaiden Game Necromunda focuses exclusively in simulating Mob War scenarios among all of these factions, unlike the apocalyptic mass warfare of the regular miniatures game.


    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rational Wiki uses the Trope Namer quote to describe 4chan

    Western Animation 
  • Teddy Bear Junction, the worst scumpit in the galaxy!
  • Played with in Justice League: Superhero Hawkgirl's favourite bar is located in one of these.
  • Episode XLV has the Scotsman takes Samurai Jack to one in order to restore Jack's memory, and he happens to have taken Obi-Wan's statement verbatim:
    Scotsman: Heckbucket Seaport. You will never find a more wretched dive of scum and villainy... and the crabcakes aren't bad either!
  • Miracle City from El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, "a spicy cesspool of crime and villainy" according to the Opening Narration and is in fact the town's slogan. The nearby town Calavera takes it Up to Eleven.
  • Stormalong Harbor of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
  • The Pirates of Dark Water: Janda Town — "Only the scum of the sea drop anchor here."
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender holds a couple of these; the ice spring in the middle of the desert, the bar that Jun the bounty hunter is at, and the lovable port with the pirates. "Who's brave enough to look into this bag?"
    • Republic City from The Legend of Korra has a rather substantial problem with poverty, and some of the lower income areas are overrun with Bending gangs. This only gets worse once the Equalists get involved and launch an all out war against the city's Bending population.
  • The Simpsons—The family visits New York City. According to Homer's flashbacks to his last visit NYC conformed to the trope. Every living thing was corrupt in some way. On his last visit, a random guy stole his camera, a cop stole his suitcase, and, while a pickpocket made off with his wallet, a pigeon stole his hotdog. On top of this, the teller he was reading at the time claimed that "crime [was] up eight million percent".
    Homer: And that's when the CHUDs came at me.
    Marge: Oh, Homer. Of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the CHUDs.
    • Springfield is constantly referred to this.
    • Also, according to the "Oh Streetcar!" musical, New Orleans is the home of pirates, drunks and whores and tacky overpriced souvenir stores.
  • Galaxy Rangers had Tortuna. Nominally controlled by Her Travesty, though the Mooks are receptive to bribes. It's crawling with criminals of every stripe, and any human setting foot there at risk of being handed over to the local torturers to be mashed down for Life Energy. Yup, the heroes end up having to head there on many occasions.
  • Brakmar in Wakfu is a place rife with criminal enterprise, violent shenanigans, and prostitution (yes this is a children's cartoon). The kicker is that this is a massive improvement over what it was like in the Dofus era before Sacrier tried to civilize the lot of them. It went from Commorragh to Gotham City.
  • Transformers has Kaon, the underbelly of Cybertron, where in several different continuities it is always the birthplace of the rebellions that later become the Decepticon movement, and typically houses a gladiatorial arena where underground blood sports are run. Megatron typically makes his name here as a gladiator before he becomes the commander of the Decepticons.
  • SpacePOP has the Vega asteroid, home to Renaldo's Roadhouse, a club full of lowlifes who dip bands they don't like in a boiling slime pit and trap bands they do like at the club to play forever.

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