Mr. Raymond Feist is not the world's most original writer, but his books continually top bestseller lists. Forgotten Realms novels regularly feature predictable characters doing predictable things, but still manage to have a hefty market penetration. What do they have in common?
I believe both offer anchors to the reader. In Feist’s case, many of his cultures or nations are thinly-disguised real-life cultures or old fantasy stereotypes. Feist does not spend much time, if any, detailing anything new in fantasy; he gives the reader something familiar as a point reference, tells any truly new cultural descriptors to get the hell out of the way, and writes his story. No one’s saying it’s the most creative literature ever, but it’s also been read by about 7 million more people than anything I’ve ever written.
In the Forgotten Realms, you do have some real-world analogues, but Realms novelists have the benefit of writing about a world defined (and that has defined) multiple standard fantasy tropes in the world’s most popular roleplaying game. Again, Realms authors don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time out—though to be fair, at times they do come up with an original idea or two.
These anchors are common in fantasy today, whether it be tabletop gaming or a fantasy novel. Predictability and easy definition are sometimes loathed by those seeking more exotic fantasy, but there is a reason that the most popular fantasy works retain a mainstream definition and point of reference. It keeps the entry barrier down, and allows people to more easily immerse themselves in a game or a novel.
I have seen games and books (some written by good friends) that completely overdo the entire anchor concept. They are too staid, too predictable, too similar to the mundane world to be effective escapist fare. On the other hand, I have seen truly esoteric or eclectic fantasy efforts (Tékumel, anyone?) which remain niche at best. It’s not that you can’t create less familiar fantasy that has an easy entry point, it’s just apparently a harder task for many.
If you want true accessibility for your work, think first in vanilla, then add your sprinkles and toppings.