When someone gets a familiar it is very useful in the first few levels, but then after that (if it lives) it becomes less helpful and sort of an after thought. I can't remember in my experience, when anyone used one past the first levels.
Here's my plan. Animal companions level up with their master. Makes record keeping much simpler. So when a ranger reaches a new level, here's what he can do with his animal buddy. He can chose one of the following:
Roll for extra hit points
- Add 1d4 hit points
- Add +1 to hit
- Add +1 to damage
- Add +1 to AC
- Add a new task it can perform
Say the ranger loses his companion in a fight. It's going to happen, adventurers live dangerous lives. What would happen then is the player could eventually get a new companion, maybe with a little RPing involved, and the new companion would start as a newb. Base template stats, and then move up from there. Or of the almighty GM has been plied enough with praise and pizza, a different, more powerful companion could be found.
Anyway, I like the idea of it.