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Hive city

A typical hive city as seen from the Outskirts.

A hive city or simply a hive, is a massive arcology, or fully self-contained city, that is home to millions or even billions of Human beings loyal to the Imperium of Man. Hive cities are often found in clusters on the densely populated urban planets known in the official Imperial lexicon as Hive Worlds.

Hive cities have been built up over thousands of Terran years, in many cases stretching back into the Age of Technology long before the founding of the Imperium.

Hive cities are layered constructions of rockcrete and adamantium, comprising thousands of residential and industrial blocks leveraged one atop the other, forming a massive, man-made mountain usually capped by a crown of great spires that stretch thousands of metres into the sky.

In general, the higher up one goes in a hive city, the more wealthy and powerful the residents, until one reaches the hive's spires where the city's nobility live, work and play.

Conversely, the lowest levels of the hive, down below in the great tunnels that catacomb a hive's foundations even below the industrial and forge levels, lies the Underhive, a massive slum inhabited by violent gangs and vicious mutants who have never seen the light of their world's sun.

Hive cities often exist in closely-spaced groups known as "hive clusters" and there can be several thousand hive cities on a single Hive World.


Interior schematic of the Luetin Hive on the world of Luetin Necropolis.

These arcologies are largely economically self-sufficient, producing all the industry and processed foods needed by the countless number of people who call them home. They are also crucial to the Imperium's survival as they produce most of the manufactured goods required by Mankind.

Hive cities were originally created in the Age of Technology as a way for a large number of Humans to live together in an advanced society without damaging the surrounding planetary ecologies and biosphere. However, the terrible damage wrought by the Age of Strife on Human-settled space led many hive cities to lose the technologies and behaviours that had allowed them to remain in balance with their environments.

As a result, each hive creates millions of metric tons of trash and industrial waste that is directly pumped out into the surrounding world's environment.

Given the massive population of most Hive Worlds, this means that their surfaces are usually reduced to industrial wastelands covered in toxic deserts where nothing can live or grow save for the hardy mutants who call these "ash wastes" home and often raid the covered train-like transports that move passengers and cargo between hive city clusters.

Hive City Geography


A dilapidated hive city as seen from the ash wastes on the world of Armageddon.

Hive cities are worlds unto themselves where the populace has never seen the rest of their planet and concepts such as the ground and sky are completely alien. There are entire regions inside the hive city blocked off by the ruins of sections or layers that have collapsed or been built over.


The expanse of Hive Tertium as seen from the upper atmosphere of Atoma Prime.

These ruined areas of the hive often hide treasures beyond price: archeotech hoards, ancient stores of advanced technology saved in caches on many Hive Worlds during the upheavals of the Age of Strife to preserve the technological wonders that existed during the Age of Technology on many Human worlds.


A hive city of the Macharian Sector in the Segmentum Pacificus.

A hive city is divided into a number of zones, moving in increasing order from the base of the arcology to its spires:

  • Outskirts - The Outskirts of a hive city are not as terrible a place to live as the Underhive, but the Outskirts carries its own terrible risks. There is, of course, no power of any kind beyond the few portable fusion or petroleum-driven generators the residents can provide and running water and a constant food supply or basic medical care is sporadic at best. The biggest problems are dealing with the toxic environment of the ash wastes that surround most hive cities and the constant threat of attack by the fearsome mutants of those wastes. Yet the people of the Outskirts are also free to live their lives outside the rigid confines of social class and Imperial decorum that constrains all the people of the hive cities, high-and-lowborn alike or the Hobbesian struggle of all-against-all that defines the short and brutal lives of most Underhivers. Though life is difficult and extremely dangerous for the intrepid souls who decided to live outside of the hive cities all together, their lives are still their own and they serve no masters but themselves.

Hive Tertium as seen from high orbit above Atoma Prime.

  • Underhive - The Underhive is the region of a hive city where the poorest of the poor and those citizens of the hive city who have been exiled for committing crimes or for political reasons live. In the Underhive, there is no law save for that created by the gangs that rule this dark ghetto. The Underhive is a difficult place to live where the power was long before turned off by the hive city's authority and the only rule is that might makes right. All manner of crimes and atrocities go unpunished every day in the seething, violent anarchy of the Underhive. Working technology is the only real currency that matters in the Underhive and the recovery of the right equipment can transform a lowly ganger into the ruler of all he knows - until he is displaced by someone bigger, stronger, smarter or just possessed of a working Lascannon. The people of the Underhive rule through fear and shun those rich and working class alike, who live above them in the better levels of the hive.
  • Lower Hive - The Lower Hive is the layer of the hive city that lies just above the Underhive. It is comprised of the city's industrial sectors and working class residential housing. The people of this level make up the majority of any hive city's population and are responsible for maintaining and operating the hive's manufactoria and power plants to keep the rest of the hive fed, clothed and productive. Even though the Lower Hive is home to the massive fusion plasma generators that provide the entire hive city's power production, the people of the Lower Hive must pay a premium for every watt of power they consume. This means that very few people in the Lower Hive can afford any luxuries. In general, the people of the Lower Hives do their work, raise their families as best they can, seek to keep clear of the machinations of the upper classes, maintain a deep if simple faith in the Emperor and the Imperial Cult and above all are grateful that they do not live in the Underhive.
  • Upperhive - The Upperhive is the region of the hive city in which the bureaucrats who administer the hive on a day-to-day basis, top manufactorum managers and various important people connected to the Hive World's political and economic nobility live. The residences in the habitat levels here are better, space is abundant and power is free for all. Life is much easier here than in the lower levels and this level's people might be considered middle-class or even upper middle class on an Imperial socioeconomic scale.
  • Spires - The hive city's Spires are the furthest from the horrors of the lower levels and as such are the most luxuriously outfitted, serving as the homes of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the city, including the planetary Imperial nobility, the wealthiest merchants, industrial barons and any visitors of importance from off-world. Some hive spires pierce through the cloud barriers of their world, providing a stunning vista of the planet to watch over. The Spires provide plentiful food, power and the most advanced medical care available. Every family in the Spires has access to what is essentially the hive city equivalent of a mansion or villa. But in some ways the Spires are even more dangerous than the Underhive due to the political machinations that are hatched and carried out there. In the Underhive you may be murdered for a piece of bread, but in the Spires your enemies may seek to steal your very soul.

Life in a Hive City


A densely populated area of a hive city.

Hive Worlds are home to countless teeming billions. Their population is so dense that frequently the entire surface of the world is covered with the enormous hive cities stretching from horizon to horizon.

Many hivers labour in thankless obscurity, manning huge factories called manufactorums that churn out endless streams of weapons, chemicals or other vital goods for the Imperium. Others run with violent gangs in the dark of the Underhives, living off their wits, guts and firepower.

Yet, Hive Worlds are absolutely vital to the welfare of the Imperium. They are industrial worlds, producing munitions for the Emperor’s armies in vast factories, mining valuable minerals and refining fuel for the Imperial fleet.

These planets are usually barren and hostile with much of the hive world's surface inhospitable, sometimes deadly to human life after centuries of pollution. The hives themselves are astonishingly large -- massive urban conglomerations, spires of adamantium and rockcrete that can cover continents and stretch for kilometres into the sky.

Each hive houses millions, even billions, of Imperial citizens, and is a nation in its own right, with noble houses ruling mini-empires, trading and sometimes fighting with other hives on the same world.

Palls of thick, acrid smoke cling to the lower portions of the hives below the upper sections -- those gleaming spires that rise above the world's acidic cloud cover. Only the wealthy can afford to live in the upper sections of a hive, and the working classes never see the light of the sun.


Schematic of Hive Primus on the world of Necromunda.

Within the Spires reside the noble houses -- decadent, wealthy members of great Imperial families, or the richest merchant and manufactorum overlords. Spires contain broad, airy spaces and splendours unimaginable to those who dwell in the darkness below.

Below the spires, heavy gateways and security patrols regulate passage between the upper levels and the rest of the hive. Beyond this point lies the vast bulk of the working hive -- the hive-city. The populations are often so large as to be essentially unmanageable, and the hives rely on constant recycling and imports of food and other raw materials from the broader Imperium to provide sustenance and basic materials for the teeming masses.

For most people, life in the hives is tough. Conditions are squalid and unsanitary. The very air breathed by the countless hivers is recycled from the spire above and pumped through the rest of the city, growing ever more bitter and poisonous the further down it filters. Even the water is distilled from the discharge of the Upper Hive, and food is factory-produced, sometimes algae-based or spun from corpse starch.

Pollution and overcrowding are the least of the hivers' woes, as gang violence and outright anarchy is part of everyday life, particularly in the lower levels. Most hivers know only their own hive-city and do not leave it during their lifetime. They never see the sky or set foot on the surface of their own planet.

Their life is one of servitude in a manufactorum, coupled with a struggle for survival in the increasingly crime-ridden habitat-levels. Those few that do manage to leave the hives are often of a nervous disposition, and suffer terribly from agoraphobia.

Beneath the hive-city is a lawless frontier known as the "underhive." These underhives are creations of catastrophe  -- explosions, water pollution, power failure and collapsing access tunnels are common occurrences in the lowest parts of the hive cities. Sometimes the damage is repaired, but more often than not the appeals of the refugees fall on deaf ears and the underhive expands.

In this area, normal habitation is impossible, but the underhive still serves as a refuge for hive scum, criminals and the mentally unstable, though in some rare instances entire sub-cultures manage to develop and subsist in this inhospitable realm. It is a region outside the formal social structure of the hive, though some people are forced to live there as entire levels are accidentally cut off from the hive city.


Hive Desoleum in the Askellon Sector.

Heavily barricaded settlements form the only havens of order in the underhive, though even here the law of the gun is the only recognised authority, and those who go unarmed are arrogant...or foolish.

Underhives are frontiers in more ways than one, and are often seen as a necessary evil. They separate the hive city from the hive bottom -- a desolate, polluted waste, long since abandoned, and partially flooded by centuries of effluence and industrial waste. In the hive bottom, the only living things are the most monstrous mutants. Sometimes these foul creatures find their way into the underhive, and in a hive city, parents scare their children with stories of sump spawn and plague zombies.

Minor mutation is common in the environmental hazards of the underhive and is often overlooked by the desperadoes who reside there. However, sometimes fanatical cults, such as the Redemptionists, launch one of their crusades into the underhive to cleanse it of mutants. Some are never seen again.


  • Confrontation (Tabletop Game)
  • Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 16-17, 291-299
  • Necromunda - Rulebook (1st Edition)
  • Necromunda - Sourcebook (1st Edition)
  • Necromunda: Underhive (2nd Edition)
  • Warhammer Monthly 58, "Above and Beyond - Part 3"
  • Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition)
  • White Dwarf 130 (UK), "Confrontation," by Bryan Ansell, Rick Priestley and Nigel Stillman
  • Necromunda Novel Series:
    • Survival Instinct (Novel) by Andy Chambers
    • Salvation (Novel) by C.S. Goto
    • Blood Royal (Novel) by Gordon Rennie & Will McDermott
    • Junktion (Novel) by Matthew Farrer
    • Fleshworks (Novel) by Lucien Soulban
    • Cardinal Crimson (Novel) by Will McDermott
    • Back from the Dead (Novel) by Nick Kyme
    • Outlander (Novel) by Matt Keefe
    • Lasgun Wedding (Novel) by Will McDermott
  • Necromunda Omnibus 1 (Omnibus)
  • Necromunda Omnibus 2 (Omnibus)
  • The Complete Kal Jericho (Omnibus)
  • Status Deadzone (Anthology) Edited by Andy Chambers & Marc Gascoigne
  • Space Marine (Novel) by Ian Watson
  • The Redeemer (Graphic Novel)
  • Deathwolf (Audio Book) by Andy Smillie
  • Games Workshop - Specialist Games: Necromunda
  • Games Workshop - Necromunda Resources
  • Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Imperium Maledictum (Images)