So, two things kind of happened in the last couple of weeks. First, I found myself giving some attention to my Imperial max-level alts as my guild has been doing some Imperial alt operations for the first time in ages, and I was kind of shocked by just how badly some of them were geared. I shouldn't have been surprised, considering that I haven't done much with them other than level them to the cap and run a couple of flashpoints, but it was still a jarring contrast to how well-geared even my lesser played Republic alts are. So I decided to give them a bit more love in the near future, if nothing else just by sending some spare gear over from Republic side, or checking whether they had some quests left to do that would give decent rewards.
The other thing that happened is that I've been levelling my little Vanguard, and since I intentionally left her un-guilded for now, I've actually been reading general chat on her. On all my other characters I have it hidden away in a separate tab not necessarily because it's terrible, but because I'm paranoid about missing guild chat or personal messages if they have to share a space with the never-ending flow of random chatter that is general chat on the fleet. By actually paying attention to general for a change, I found myself surprised by just how many operations pugs people were putting together at all times of day, both for old and new content.
These two observations coalesced in my brain to form the following thought: why not take some of my lesser played alts to an ops pug when I have the time? I may not be as skilled on the ones I don't play as often, but I'm not terrible either and I know all the tactics. It would be an opportunity to finally complete some of the ops story quests that certain characters have had in their logs pretty much for as long as I can remember, as well as a chance at some gear upgrades from boss drops. How bad could it be?
Well, actually it turned out to be awesome. The very first pug I jumped into, 16-man TFB on my dps Guardian, was led by someone who was both friendly as well as extremely competent. They made it clear from the start that it wasn't a problem if anyone needed fight explanations, but as it happened we had a full group of people who already knew the instance. We breezed through the place in little more than an hour, and the ops leader only had to give the occasional pointer where special roles needed to be assigned (such as who should click the consoles on Operator).
Since then I also joined a KP hardmode run on my Gunslinger and knocked out Dread Fortress on three different alts that hadn't done it yet. I won't claim that it was a perfect experience - there were a couple of slightly annoying people, and there was that one time we had a really silly wipe on the first trash pull in DF - but on the whole it's been very good. Groups fill up quickly and with the exception of some people who are looking to fill the last few spots in their hardmode runs, I've never seen anyone ask about achievements, gear or even spec. You just whisper your role and if it's something the group still needs, the invite comes flying. Despite of this complete lack of vetting, I have yet to see anyone join who was dramatically undergeared or incompetent. Sure, you'll always get someone who dies to silly things, but story mode is tuned to forgive the occasional blunder, and most people seem to know what to do. I suspect this is the side of pugging that is rarely talked about: that it's not just for the new and clueless, but also serves as a playground for people like me who are on their fifth alt and are confident in being able to do the job. (And from the looks of it there are a lot of us.)
Behaviour-wise, people tend to be quiet and focused on the job, but overall the atmosphere is pleasant. I haven't seen any blatant rudeness or ninja-looting so far. It seems that the social checks and balances are in place - nobody wants to make themselves or their guild look bad in front of people that they might rely on again for the next pug. And of course it helps that there are no add-ons like damage meters for people to needlessly scrutinise other players' performance. Every member of the group is just another helpful addition.
I suspect that there will be a lot more pugging like that in my future - it's surprisingly quick and quite rewarding. (Even if you don't win any rolls, you get a fair amount of commendations and some of the one-time quests give good rewards too: yay for Arkanian relics from the DF story mission!) I even made a little spreadsheet (don't judge me) to note down which of my alts still have quests to do in which operation. If you've been thinking about stepping into an operations pug yourself, it seems to me that now is a great time.