Text-based games present a unique challenge for autonomous agents to operate in natural language and handle enormous action spaces. In this paper, we propose the Contextual Action Language Model (CALM) to generate a compact set of action candidates at each game state. Our key insight is to train language models on human gameplay, where people demonstrate linguistic priors and a general game sense for promising actions conditioned on game history. We combine CALM with a reinforcement learning agent which re-ranks the generated action candidates to maximize in-game rewards. We evaluate our approach using the Jericho benchmark (Hausknecht et al., 2019a), on games unseen by CALM during training. Our method obtains a 69% relative improvement in average game score over the previous state-of-the-art model. Surprisingly, on half of these games, CALM is competitive with or better than other models that have access to ground truth admissible actions.