While writing my manuscript for Dunlyle (a fantasy mini-setting), about which I will likely blog more later, I stumbled onto a bit of a metawriting dilemma, to wit: how much creativity is enough?
In Fantasy RPGs, the Greats of fiction (the usual suspects) and those of the hobby itself (EGG et al) cast long shadows. Layered on top of these genre expectations are our inherent Western cultural biases, myths, and legends. Toss on top of that a few rulebooks written by fellow members of that culture, and any red-blooded American aspiring to write an adventure is bound to end up with a finished product that looks somewhat familiar, with castles and wizards and hairy-footed small humanoids. Stranger still, I confess that I still find this familiarity comforting; Northern European flavored roleplaying appears to be my default setting.
This is insecapeable to some degree; we're all products of our culture. No doubt a native of Japan, say, would have a prediliction to create settings, characters, and situations that are familiar to him. Most creative people, however, eventually reach a second stage where, rather like the Beatles going to India, they want to inject new elements into their creative output. Eventually, a fusion of sorts results between the artist's original formative influences and the stimuli to which he is exposed. M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel is the classic example of a deliberate attempt to exert both artistic and intellectual creativity to break away from Tolkein-based fantasy fiction and gaming.
The question then becomes whether the artist's audience can maintain its interest in the new creative fusion. How many citar-focused Beatles songs do their fans want to hear? How much creativity is enough? The "same only different" motto has to apply to one degree or another if the creative output is going to have any resonance with its intended audience. While the artist's medium can certainly mold the audience in ways it was not intending to be affected, it must meet that audience's preexisting needs in some respect.
Quality is a factor, too. We can tolerate something lacking in creativity (Ravenloft comes to mind) when it is well-done; and what is not new -- or even a cliche -- in the big-picture sense can certainly exhibit substantial creativity in the details.
The conclusion I have reached is this: to inject as much creativity and quality in the details as possible, even if the subject matter has been overdone for decades.